Sunday, December 9, 2007

La Purísima - Halloween Meets the Virgin Mary

National Holiday Celebrates the Immaculate Conception of Mary

I already know that Halloween gets its origins from being on the eve of all Saints Day, so the background is semi based on religion. However, somewhere through the years the focus changed to the tales of witches and ghosts and the doling out of candy. Kids get dressed up and yell " trick or treat" laughing. Now flash to the feast of the immaculate conception of Mary. It was made official by Pop Sixtus IV in 1476 and has been celebrated in Nicaragua for 150 years. Something tells me that not much has changed with the feast.

Boom Bang Boom . . . The fireworks, bottle rockets, and firecrackers start ar 6am and ring for 15 minutes. This will go on every 6 hours for the next 2 days no matter if day or night. Sporadically throughout the day you hear them fired and pop, but nothing as exciting as the first noon on the first day of celebration. Boom Ding Boom Ding... At noon the fireworks are accompanied by the bells of the churches that have towers in Central León. This signals to all that it is time to break from work and prepare for the Purísima.

For the 4 hours that we are at work nothing at all gets done. The excitement has been building all week. This year the 2 day celebration starts on a friday and is marked as the 150th anniversary. Moreover, this city is where the first ever celebration took place and the Church from which it started is one block from my house. Everyone asks me time and time again if I am going to yell today. At first I kid and say of course not, and I am met with an inquisitive "but you said you were catholic?". Well, I had to learn the jist of things and of course what to yell.

You subsitute "trick or treat" with a phrase "Who causes so much happiness?" that garners the response "The Conception of Mary", then you reply "Long live the Virgin". Whereas on Halloween the houses who are participating leave their lights on or some sign that they are Halloweeners, such as a Jack-o-Latern or tombstone, here the houses are signaled by an altar dedicated to Mary. Rich or poor the people put together ornate altars that feature christmas lights, fake flowers, painted backgrounds, and statues of Mary and Saints (see photos). Also instead of getting candy everywhere you go, "yellers"(as they are called) get everything from socks, pens, candles, to little sweets. Perhaps the most telling thing I recieved was from the Church of the Mother of Mercy, which handed out peeled sugar cane. It is a symbol of Nicaragua´s past, present, and future. From the sugar cane comes Nicaragua´s orld famous rum and also sugar, which in the future could be used such as in Brazil as fuel. It turs out to be quite the tastey treat, and something traditionally done for over a century. The Church also had an altar which had a painting of God with a halo of Red and Black, the traditional colors of the Sandinista political/revolutionary party.

I am not sure how to react to the entire 2 day feast. It is pretty obvious that their is very little separation between Church and State here. The TV channels and radios continually yell the phrases and President Ortega does so as well on TV and even has hundreds of people yelling at his house as he hands them bags of treats and then they are shoved out of the line. All these people are hailing the mother of Jesus and venerating her purity and sanctity, but then again women´s rights and the rule of Machismo plague civil and social society. On the one hand it is nice to see so many peope celebrating a holy day of obligation, but then again the churches are not exactly filled. In the end it would appear that a good deal are talking about Mary, whose feast day celebrates her sinless life, but just thinking about booze, free gifts, and having a good time.

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