the journal


La Gritería

Filed Under international travel, photography

Every year, on the evening of December 7th, Nicaragua comes alive with prayers, singing and fireworks. In communities big and small, they celebrate “La Gritería,” or the immaculate conception of Mary. I witnessed the main celebration in Leon in 2006 (here’s a couple of photos here and here; a video here) and had an equally rewarding experience this year in the town of San Jose del Sur on the island of Ometepe.

The celebration involves visiting altars made in honor of of the Virgin Mary.  The small community of Las Cruces, located a mile or two south of San Jose del Sur, created this altar with what looks like a considerable amount of care:

La Gritería 01

On December 7th at 6pm, the celebration begins! Communities come together around the altar as it is lit up in Christmas lights. When most of the locals have had a chance to view the ornate display, they disconnect the altar and the platform becomes portable.  Selected citizens carry the altar into the street followed by the community, all singing songs about the Virgin Mary or worshiping in their own way.

I had my camera recording during some of the singing and chanting.  Click on the play button below to listen to it:

La Gritería 02

La Gritería 03

In our walk towards the center of San Jose del Sur, a few men walk ahead of the procession lighting rockets every few minutes.  They shoot 50 feet into the air then explode into a star burst of sparks.

The procession ends at the main square of San Jose del Sur, an area about the size of an American football field. On the south end of the square stands the small church. A church bell rings in the bell tower, which stands nearby. It is disconnected from the church to provide more stabilization on this volcanically-active island. Many aftershocks have destroyed lesser structures.

The atmosphere is similar to a fair, but without the entertainment. A woman walks around distributing free drinks – a sugary, spicy drink served in a small plastic bag. The drink seems to be popular based on the number of children crowding around the woman and her tub of tied bags, but I found the drink tasted too spicy. Our group tried subtly to dispose of the drink without offending the locals. Children, mainly boys ages 10-16, run around lighting fire crackers and throwing them near unsuspecting people. We hoped they would not them near us as we were their source of fire. A girl sings a song over a loud speaker as a man plays guitar. Most of the younger men ages 20-40 are not participating. They can be seen playing pool in the local open-air pubs.

La Gritería 04

During the festival, the sky opened up and poured on the island. It fell as hard and as dense as a shower, instantly soaking everyone as they ran for cover. We hugged a large tree as I tried desperately to shield my camera bag with my body. These two resourceful women used their lawn chairs as umbrellas.

La Gritería 05

As quickly as it started, the rain abruptly stopped. Out came the moon, lighting up large cumulus clouds rolling slowly over a backdrop of twinkling stars. I left with the other gringos and headed back to our hostel, a mile or so down the road. As we walked using just the light of the moon, I felt extremely honored to have experienced La Griteria on Ometepe.