La Purísima and La Gritería: What to Know About Nicaragua's Unique Christmas Tradition

Virgin Mary
Virgin Mary | © Erin Pawlicki / Flickr
Jack Guy

While Christmas is a big deal across Central America, in Nicaragua they have a unique celebration that takes place a few weeks before.

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La Purisima altar in Nicaragua

Fun Catholic tradition takes place throughout Nicaragua

La Purísima is a religious event that celebrates the conception of the Virgin Mary, taking place at the end of November. Catholic devotees celebrate with nine days of prayer and the building of an altar in their homes, as well as singing and gifts for those who visit it.

Then on December 7 comes La Gritería, which translates as “the shouting.” As you might have guessed, it’s a raucous occasion. At 6pm, people start to shout the question: ¿Qué causa tanta alegría?” (What causes so much happiness?), and others respond with “La Concepción de María” (Mary’s Conception).

Religious statues outside the cathedral in Leon, Nicaragua

Singing, sweets and snacks

This call and response goes on for some time before fireworks and firecrackers are set off, with people singing in the streets and visiting the altars of their friends and neighbours. Groups repeat the call and response as they visit each house, receiving traditional food, sweets and drinks (known as “la gorra”) from homeowners.

People also sing traditional carols devoted to the Virgin Mary, and more firecrackers are set off at midnight, 6am and midday between December 7 and 8. Don’t expect to get a good night’s sleep; you’re better off being out and about with the locals.

Religious icons at a church in Nicaragua

Head to Leon to see the dancing giant

The celebration is a tradition throughout Nicaragua, although there are regional variations. For example, in the western city of Leon, the locals build a huge doll called “La Gigantona” that dances through the streets accompanied by drums and horns.

If you are in Nicaragua from the end of November to December, make sure you get involved with the tradition. It’s a great way to meet locals and see inside their homes while being part of a huge national celebration.

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