Christmas in Nicaragua

By December 19, 2012Recent Posts
Purísima altar

Purísima altar

Editor’s Note: We are delighted to be able to share this report about ‘the festive season’ in Nicaragua, a context that is probably quite alien to many of our readers. Enjoy! The Language on the Move team would also like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers happy holidays and a healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year!

In Nicaragua, the holiday season lasts for about a month. It all starts nine days before December 08, the Day of the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception. The nine days leading up to December 08 are known as Purísima Concepción in Spanish, or Purísima for short. During Purísima the day begins early: from around 4:30am onwards firecrackers, bangers and all kinds of bells wake up everyone in our town. The noise is an invitation to attend morning mass and to join in the devotions to and the glorification of the Virgin Mary. The devotions centre on a different quarter or street each day. A makeshift altar is set up with a beautifully decorated statue of the Virgin Mary.

Another Purísima altar decorated with madroño branches

Another Purísima altar decorated with madroño branches

Other Christmas decorations such as lights and all kinds of plastic stuff go up during Purísima, too. In Nicaragua, of course, there are no Christmas trees (no pine trees in the tropics) but the madroño, Nicaragua’s national tree, flowers in early December. The beautiful white madroño flowers, which smell a bit like lilac flowers, are also used to decorate the Purísima altars.Everyone joins into the prayers, the singing and the celebrations. The morning ceremonies usually end in a street party, with more music, more firecrackers, and those who can afford it distribute oranges, sugarcane, lollies and juice among the devout revellers. Church and state also distribute food and little presents among the worshippers – that’s why ‘Purísima hopping’ from one party to the next is popular.

By the time Christmas rolls around, all the presents have been distributed and to receive presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day is unusual here.

You may be curious whether Nicaraguan children receive Christmas presents other than the public distribution of food and lollies described above? Well, it depends – on whether their families can afford presents or not. The most popular presents are new clothes. Toy presents are quite rare and only for the little kids.

Bags of juice are distributed among these Purísima worshippers

Bags of juice are distributed among these Purísima worshippers

Presents and consumption are not the most important aspect of Christmas in Nicaragua. For most families new clothes and a feast are a stretch and so we cherish them. Even more than that, the December holidays provide an opportunity for families to spend time together, to visit, to celebrate TOGETHER.The typical Christmas feast here consists of a stuffed chicken and many delicious vegetable side dishes. It’s normally consumed on Christmas Eve and people have to eat a lot so that they can stay up until midnight for Christmas Mass. In this Catholic country, everyone attends Christmas Mass, of course.

On Christmas Day people are out and about once again. It’s visiting time and the public spaces of our town are even busier than usual because the Christmas season is also the time when the returnees are in town: many of the migrants to the cities, to Costa Rica or to North America try to return for the holiday season. The returnees bring money into town and that helps with the cost of the holiday season.

Another way to make the celebrations affordable is to concentrate them in December: it’s also the season to celebrate graduations, weddings, baptisms, first communions etc. For most people December celebrations are the only parties they have. Or, to put it differently, families literally starve themselves throughout the year in order to be able to fatten a pig for the Christmas feast.

I wish all the readers of Language on the Move joyful togetherness, empathy, a good sense of humour and God’s blessings for the holidays and the New Year!

Author Frida Weiss

Originally from Germany, Frida Weiss has been living in a small town in Nicaragua for more than 20 years. She’s the founder of the women’s textile cooperative in which she works.

More posts by Frida Weiss
  • Prince of Persia

    Happy Yalda 😉

  • Khan

    Merry Christmas Ms Farida and to all the friends at Language on the Move. There is a lot of festivity in air in Karachi too.

    Thanks for the post. It is very interesting.