Tuesday, December 8, 2015

La Purisima - La Noche de Griteria

 I have seen many celebrations in Nicaragua and other countries in Latin America. Last night it was  La Purisima - La Noche de Griteria here in Leon. Hands down this Frankenstein of religious celebration to the Virgin Mary mixed with the pagan Halloween door to door gathering of candies and toys is topped of with screaming and all night fireworks like a bright red cherry. A religious rave minus the ecstasy.

I write this listening to day 2 of round the clock fireworks and firecrackers. They reach a crescendo when the local air raid siren goes off at 6:00 and midnight. Thankfully I have never been in a war zone and could not compare any moment in my life to such a situation. However, using my imagination and the long list of war movies I have watched last night sounded like "a war zone". More on that later.

The main Cathedral was draped and lit quite beautifully as were the surrounding buildings. The central park was packed with revelers anxious for the big moment. It was something I was told, well warned about but had no idea what to expect.

There was a service in the cathedral and we could hear it over loudspeakers but the main door was closed. This was a part of what was to come. I was just wandering around taking it all in. Suddenly the church service ended and the crowed got eerily quiet..all at once but for some sporadic whispers of "are you ready", "it's exciting", "I am so happy", "look, that guy (nodding towards me) has no idea what's happening". Sad but true, worse yet was that I understood him and smiled back like a big dork. It was the strangest non drug induced large crowd thing I have ever was a part of.

At that "fish out of water" moment the crowd started cheering. OK Ken just cheer. The door to the Cathedral opens and in the nicest blue hues sits a statue of the Blessed Virgin (no not Dakota Fanning). It went back to creepy silent and the priest was saying one thing or another.

Have you ever had general admission to a concert? You know that exact moment when the main band hits the state the crowd surges forward. Mix that crowd with religious fervor, modern technology and a lone white guy pin balling around not knowing what was going on you could appreciate that at that moment i was just a little bit scared for my life.
It was at this moment that I felt something in my hand. A little girl of about 7 who was standing next to me with her family had her hand in mine. As I looked down, she looked up and smiled her 7 year old smile. Then just like that she let go and moved forward with her family. The Blessed Virgin now had my full attention.! Damn religious symbolism really creeped me out for a good minute.

 I was lost in my head trying to figure out what had just happened when I was blasted awake by the priest yelling "Quien causa tanta alegeria" (Who causes so much happiness). In one roaring voice the crowd screams back "La concepción de María!"  It was a nice moment and the 3 or 4 seconds of this exchange allowed my equilibrium to return.

KaBoom! Firework explode behind the now spotlit Virgin Mary, the air raid sirens start wailing full tilt and more fireworks explode all around. Total sensory overload. People are cheering, crying, smiling and generally enjoying the moment. When the sirens died down the drums of the El Tamborilero started. These kids were impressive

 Standing in from of the main door to the Cathedral were 12 La Gigantonas. They are part of the Myths and Legends of Nicaragua and are followed around by El Enano Cabezon, El Coplero and El Tamborilero.
La Gigantona represents the tall white Spanish woman that came with the conquistadors. El Enano Cabezon is a small dwarfish figure with a big head symbolizing the intelligent mestizo. El Coplero is the person who recites the popular folk verses and the Tamborilero is the one who plays the drum.
Its a fun sight when a group of 4 of them perform for the tourists. When there are twelve Gigantonas and Enano Cabezon flailing in multicolored unison while all 12 drummers hitting it with perfection it's somewhat awe inspiring. I had no idea what El Coplero was doing during the chaos. This chaos went on for no less than half an hour. Fireworks, sirens, screaming, drumming, dancing and lots of smiles and laughter.

At the back end of the park there were a series of displays that the crowd turned and lined up to view. Now, these have been in the park for almost 2 weeks now and most people, myself included have spent time admiring them. However, as a part of the ritual most of the crowd lined up and passed by each one in an orderly procession. Remember, there were at least 3000 people here, maybe more.

I had my fill and after watching the guys light the fireworks for a bit longer I headed home what I thought was the quiet sanctity of my neighborhood. As with most things in the country I could not have been more wrong. The next phase of the night was about to begin. The viewing of the personal montages, memorials, displays and alters in peoples homes.

 These were no Wall Mart buy it and toss it up there displays and it showed in the pride of the homeowners faces. But here is where it gets fun and a bit nuts.

Remember this?"Quien causa tanta alegeria" . Now people ran from house to house yelling it and in response the home owner yelled back "La concepción de María!" the gave out candy. It was fairly sane downtown. At this location a lady walked up while I was grabbing my candy to go (you know I got right in there for free candy) and started singing. What now caroling? Within seconds people ran and joined in. I am talking young kids, teenagers, adults and the elderly all singing. I did not get everything they were singing but it was a tribute to....you got it. The Blessed Virgin. It was quite amazing and solemn. When the singing stopped the magic of the moment was crushed by the sudden insanity to rush for candy. This house also gave out large plastic cups which I could see were being used by the candy wolverines to carry their loot. A nice gesture to be sure.

This scene was repeated on all streets as I walked home, filling up on candy and treats. I live in Park San Juan, a full residential neighborhood. It was bedlam! The hoarded masses were everywhere running house to house yelling "Quien causa tanta alegeria" . As I joined in I was being pushed around by young kids and at one time a lady of about 80 bumped me, smiled and got in front of me. It was awesome. It was a Fun and Friendly Candy Black Friday. Same chaos, only smiles.

I ran back to the hostel, grabbed Brenda who was a few rum and cokes in and off we went. The first house we went to gave us little plastic bags of some type of raspberry puree. Gringo lump of coal, until we saw kids gorging on them. We wandered the streets in awe at the spectacle. We got candy, noisemakers, a packet of coffee and a comb. I was jazzed on candy and had slurped a Pepsi on the way home. It was going to be a sleepless night to be sure.

During what aliens must sure had thought was a Zombie Apocalypse the ever present fireworks were going off in all neighborhoods. The night faded and we all went our separate ways to count and devour our loot. As I lay in bed on my sugar buzz silently whispering "ah candy, my precious" I had thought that the fireworks were louder and more sustained. Nah, Candy buzz. Louder and a bit louder but nothing crazy. Down goes another caramelo.

Midnight comes and so does the ever present Air Raid siren. However this time is was signalling "GO TIME". A full frontal beach landing of fireworks and firecracker. I went out into the garden and just stared in every direction including over my head. Streams of colors, hisses, bangs, pops and tat a tat tats! There was no sleeping now. Each minutes getting louder and a bit more nuts. 12:30 and no end in sight. 12:45 and bang, pop hiss....silence. Nothing but the sound of everyone in their rooms mumbling "oh thank god". And with that, it was over....except for the sugar buzz.

Here are a series of clips during the initial sensory onslaught. At :35 what sounds like a long buzzing is the air raid siren. The audio is loud so turn down your volume.

Quien causa tanta alegeria" 
  "La concepción de María!" 

No comments: