Growing up Catholic, I was well aware of the Holy Day in early December, The Immaculate Conception. But I had no idea that the Catholics in Nicaragua celebrated like this!! I think it might have been really interesting to learn about how other countries celebrate as I was growing up, but that wasn’t in our curriculum at the time. When I arrived, everyone was all a flutter about preparing for Purisima – the name for this particular Holy Day. In fact, it’s an entire weekend. The radio blasts “Purisima!!” connected with whatever they’re promoting. Even Kathya’s family was a little surprised that I hadn’t been aware of this Nicaraguan tradition. They were sure the entire world must know of their little gem! Certainly, they do go all out!!
Michael spent a lot of time trying to explain what was going on. He hadn’t participated in this celebration last year, because his host family wasn’t Catholic, so he lacked first hand knowledge. But he was certainly aware of all his fiancée’s family was doing to prepare their home.
Kathya’s family had been shopping for months! Purchasing off-brand tupperware seemed to be the staple. All afternoon, we sorted and put lids with bowls or lids with cups. Angie, Kathya’s 4 yr-old niece and I had a great time! She and I found a way to communicate – remember, I have no Spanish-speaking skills and she has no English-speaking skills. So we improvised. We stacked all the bowls of a particular color, I’d point to it and say the English word. Then she’d repeat it. Then I’d ask her, “In Espagnol?” and she’d tell me. We did this kind of communicating throughout my entire stay at their home.
At one point that day, I asked Angie to get Michael to come to me. I simply said, “Tell Michael to come here.” Then I pointed to where Michael was, said his name, did my fingers like walking with it ending up pointing to HERE, in front of me. She grinned and ran to the doorway, “MICHAEL!” Then, in Spanish, she said, “Your mom wants you.” They all said, “No, Angie. Stop playing. You do not speak English.” But she kept repeating more emphatically.
So Michael came in and asked, “Did you ask her to come get me?”
“Yes, of course, I did.”
He turned back to the others and said (in Spanish), “She did ask Angie to get me.”
Everyone laughed and was SHOCKED that we were communicating! How could Angie learn English so quickly. I told them she was very smart! And then I told Michael how I did it. There’s something about trying to communicate, wanting to communicate with someone. When you’re not afraid to say it wrong or make motions or gestures, somehow it all gets communicated!
Angie loves to jump on Michael – especially if he doesn’t expect it!
Angie loves cell phones. She was constantly taking people’s phones and then taking pictures with them. When she discovered the video part of the cell phone camera, she loved it!! This leads me to the song she learned in English at her school. After a little coaxing, she sang it. A few times. Both of these videos are of her singing the same song, but each video has its own charms, so I’m putting both!! Can you guess what she’s singing about?
Many families in Nicaragua create an altar to the Virgin Mary for Purisima. In La Paz, a few modest homes had altars on an outside wall. And a few families were like Kathya’s, the altar was inside their home or at least their gates. The Aleman’s altar was really large with lighting that would beautifully illuminate the statue when the visitors would come by that evening. The choir director from her church came by to help with the details. Later, we saw him helping set up the festivities at the Church. The bottom picture, here, shows how the altar looks when you first enter the gate.
By late afternoon, firecrackers started going off just outside the walls. We were coming back from a little sightseeing and noticed a large number of people on foot, heading into LaPaz. Entire families carrying bags were walking along the sides of the road. We walked up to the church to see what they had planned. They had small woven baskets, which are believed to be the original custom, filled with candies. These would be handed out to the families who participated at the Church.
I went to change clothes in my room and could hear singing from several people in the courtyard. I went out and found Irma, her daughter Fernanda, Angie, and 2-3 others I hadn’t met yet, singing the traditional song. I’ve tried to find the lyrics, but no success yet. It’s quite long.
What typically happened was Kathya’s brothers Carlos and Bosco “manned” the door. The streets were packed with people waiting to come into a few homes – the Aleman’s was one of those homes. Carlos or Bosco would let them in, one family at a time. they’d approach the altar and begin their song. These families were all ages, including mothers, fathers, grandparents. While they sang, Kathya and Fatima would count the number of children, adults, noticing their ages and if they were girls or boys. They’d go back to the living room and pull out gifts for each person. Grandmothers might get pitchers, mother or fathers would get tupperware bowls with lids, teens and kids would get cups with candy, and the youngest would get toys.
This went on for hours.
After a while, Irma and Fernanda returned with Angie. They had been going to all the other homes. Angie crashed on the couch, but Irma wanted to take Michael and I to another larger home. We waited in a huge line full of people. They tried to help me learn the song – since I was going to be expected to sing it!! All I could remember was the shout at the end, “La Concepcion de Maria” and sometimes there was an additional “Viva la Maria! Viva la Nicaragua!” Everyone thought it was funny that I would simply be “nanana, nananana…La Cocepcion de Maria!” but it was the best I could do. So our turn finally came and we entered this family’s home. Michael stepped back to take pictures – which left and even SMALLER crowd of singers with me! The family didn’t really care, and handed us all tupperware containers full of homemade candies. I tried the candies then gave the tupperware to Irma.
We started to head for home and were shocked to see the entire street filled with people waiting to get into Kathya’s house! We worked our way through and Bosco let us in. Kathya and Fatima were still working – counting and bringing out gifts. They were definitely getting tired. But they pressed on. So many very poor families came and Kathya and Fatima were so conscientious about making sure everyone left with something. Family and friends were stopping by, going to the porches to say hi to the family and have a couple Victoria or Tonia beers (the national beers of Nicaragua!)
It was quite an elaborate event!
Nicaragua in December – Managua and LaPaz
Nicaragua in December – Massaya, Granada, La Boquita & More!
Nicaragua in December – Cross-country trip to Michael’s Site