“Quien Causa tanta alegria?!” (Who causes us so much happiness?!)
We would all scream back, “Maria de Nicaragua, Nicaragua de Maria!!!” (Mary of Nicaragua!!!)
This joyous shout could be heard all throughout the town and then songs to the Blessed Virgin would continue into the night.
I was born in New York, but grew up in Nicaragua. Nicaragua has always been a country deeply rooted in the Catholic faith. So many cultural traditions and celebrations play off of that religious history, and December 7th (the feast of the Immaculate Conception) is no different. The ‘Shout to the Virgin” (“La Griteria”) is a celebration of the Immaculate Conception, whom without her saying yes to God their will would be no birth of Christ. It declares the beginning of the Christmas Season, and that all should prepare for the birth of Christ.
During it my family would set up their statue of Mary on an altar in their house in order to sing and pray for her intercession. Families tend to give a fruit or a token gift for praying and singing to her.
December would start with La Purisima in which an altar is made to the Virgen and prayers are done for the Novena (9 day prayer) and then La Griteria (‘Shout’ to the Virgen) which is a Nicaraguan tradition of singing to the Virgen of the Immaculate Conception.
My favorite Christmas memories were about waiting for the clock to strike midnight so we could open our gifts from “El niño Dios” (baby Jesus). (As the country has grown with international travel and commerce some families have begun the idea of “Santa” within their families but it is not a traditional custom in Nicaragua.)
In our family, Christmas was about the birth of Jesus and family time. We would all spend the night together and get all dressed up to wait for the birth of Christ. I remember our cousins and I staying up late and playing with our toys all night while the adults partied the night away.
In our home we would prepare a feast and eat together as a family after midnight, at midnight the neighbors would do light firecrackers and fireworks outside. Everyone would go outside and the neighbors would gather to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, then people would go back home to open gifts and to start the night.
The sense of community is alive and well in Nicaragua, and that was the most beautiful part of celebrating Christmas. I don’t totally know how to explain it but it’s different there. Everyone is in good spirits and we celebrate as a community, as a people instead of individuals.
In Nicagraua neighbors are a sort of extended family. Though they may be too noisy or obnoxious at times they are still there when you need. Throughout the streets you can see doors propped open and all different types of households welcoming their neighbors in without fear. It’s a magical night of true unity and true love. One that I find is rare in the world that we live in. But it gives me so much hope.
Every year after our joyful shout, I saw people share their happiness and their sadness. I remember going walking around to all the neighbors on the block and hugging and cheering. The adults would share a drink and chat about their night, the kids would eagerly wait to get back home to see what was under the tree. The gifts were not many or extravagant in nature, they were just tokens of appreciation for one another. I saw them trust the community that they lived in. And as much as I love living in the states, I have to say that I have not quite seen it here.
I loved the sound of fireworks going off in the night and just the pure joy that could be felt and heard in the atmosphere. My grandfather would then play his old records and dance with us and that is my most cherished memory, it is not about the gifts, because the only gift that I remember as a child was the time spent with my family, friends, and neighbors all filled with Christmas Joy!