Tonight is our second celebration of La Purisima. Ecclesiastically, that means the commemoration of the immaculate conception of Mary, an easily misunderstood day in the church year. To keep a long story short, it’s simply that when Mary was conceived, and then born, she was free from the original sin we all have to live with.
More significantly, la purisima is the definitive cultural holiday for Nicaragua, Their national day. As they say, Nicaragua de Maria, Maria de Nicaragua.
Doesn’t need to be said that this is not a usual Protestant holiday. In fact my Presbyterian forebears would not be able to comprehend this at all.
The way the story goes, Pedro Alonso Sanchez de Zepeda y Ahumada, the brother of Saint Teresa of Avila, was on his way to Peru with an icon of the blessed mother when a storm blew them off course to Nicaragua. The masses turned out in amazing numbers to to venerate the blessed mother. When the storm lifted, they headed out to sea only to be driven back to Nicaragua again. This time, the one in charge said, OK, now it’s clear. The statue stays here. And so was born La Purisima.
|Companeros are those who break bread together|
The celebration has rounds of hail Marys and canciones de purisima and in between every round, gifts are given, beginning with oranges,bananas, and what was in Nicaragua, a very special treat, apples. Many small gifts, useful items, devotional items, things people would need, pressed coconut bars, meringue cookies.
I’m always impressed that in a socio-religous culture dominated by men, it is women who lead the liturgy. The recorded music has the feel of an old black and white movie with a south of the border theme. You expect to see Sandino himself walk in wearing his Tom Mix hat.
There are groggers and other noisemakers and frequent gritas: Quien causa tanta alegria? La concepcio de Maria! And since we’re inside, instead of firecrackers, there are balloons to pop.
I love seeing Hugo and Arcadia and their extended family and our church family and friends of Nicaragua. For open cold night in December, our sanctuary is transformed into Central America.
|Hugo and Arcadia begin the celebration|
And for me, there are memories. Of my first visit to Nicaragua. A city house on the ravine ridge circling Managua. The altar on the patio. Groups of children with torches coming to sing a song, say a prayer to the altar, receive a candy, a sugarcane. And looking out and seeing streams of flickering lights as groups ring the city going house to house. The mother of the house wearied and worn from years of war and divided family, lighting the candles with each group, singing the songs, patting the children on the head.
And that night, at the home of a government official, a few kilometers outside the city, shots fired at the house. We’re ordered to lie flat on the concrete floor. At first there is silence. Only breathing. And then, after awhile singing. My colleague Tom nudges me. The guards, he says, who are teenagers wit hAK47’s, they’re singing children’s purisima canciones. And I listen to their voices in the night.
|Arcadia, Cara and Stephen|
Quien causa tanta alegria?
La concepcion de Maria!
And that year, there was another chant:
Entre cristianismo y revolucion,
No hay contradicion….