MANAGUA – Nicaragua’s traditional “griteria” (Shout), which is celebrated every Dec. 7 in honor of the Immaculate Conception, marked its 150th anniversary last week amid debate about the government’s decision to institutionalize the festivities.
The fireworks-filled religious and folkloric festival, celebrated here and among Nicaraguans living in the United States, El Salvador and Costa Rica, was first held on Dec. 7, 1857, after the two-year National War, in which a coalition of Central American countries, Britain and many Nicaraguans succeeded in expelling an army of U.S. filibusters led by William Walker.
That day, Rev. Gordiano Carranza, accompanied by an image of the Virgin Mary and addressing hundreds of the faithful in the main square of the western city of León gave the first “griteria.” He yelled “Who brings so much joy?” and the crowd shouted back “Mary’s Conception!”
One-hundred-and-fifty years later, priests around the country and the faithful kick off the festivities with the same celebratory cry.
On the night of Dec. 7, people take to the streets and sing traditional songs in front of altars set up at thousands of homes. At every altar, they receive a variety of traditional candies and other presents from the house owners amid non-stop fireworks.
Though held throughout the country, the “griteria” festivities are most enthusiastically celebrated in León, 90 kilometers northwest of Managua, and in Granada, 45 kilometers southeast of the capital – cities that were rivals during the 1856-57 National War.
But controversy has surrounded this year’s festival due to the decision by President Daniel Ortega to institutionalize the “griteria” through the coordination of the controversial Councils of Citizen Power, or CPCs.
That decision has sparked criticism from the significant Protestant evangelical sector and other non-Catholics, who have urged Ortega to respect the secular state established by the 1987 constitution he enacted during his earlier stint as president. But the once anti-clerical Ortega made a big point of embracing Catholicism during the 2006 election campaign, reversing his earlier prochoice position to endorse the scrapping of Nicaragua’s century-old law allowing therapeutic abortion in cases where the mother’s health is at risk.