On a chilly Saturday night, 24-year-old Edwin Torres, and his 13-year-old sister, Valeria Torres, stood in front of an altar dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by roses and blue Christmas lights.
On Dec. 9, Nicaraguans gathered in Sweetwater to celebrate La Griteria, a Roman Catholic celebration where they yell and sing in joy.
“After singing, we are rewarded with Vigoron and Cacao,” the younger Torres said.
The Torres are Nicaraguan-Americans continuing a time-honored tradition.
The religious event was celebrated in various places across Miami. The biggest celebration is in Sweetwater, according to Consuelo Espinosa, a lead organizer for Community Performing Arts Association which hosts that city’s event.
“In Nicaragua, it’s a national holiday,” said Espinosa. “This celebration, we do it here in Sweetwater to help save and continue our rich culture.”
This annual tradition honors the patroness of Nicaragua. La Griteria, roughly translated as “the yelling,” is celebrated by building altars and inviting family, friends, neighbors and strangers to sing to her. The altars are placed in homes and businesses and the owners of the altars will give out treats to those who sing and shout. The treats include traditional Nicaraguan food like Vigoron, a dish made up of boiled yuca, lettuce, tomatoes and pork rinds. Other items given out include candies and drinks like Cacao, iced chocolate milk made with ground cacao beans.
La Griteria is a massive Mardi Gras-like event but its religious aspect is called “La Purísima,” or “The Pure.” It is done at churches after nine days of prayer and devotion, called a novena.
According to “Order of Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and Celebration of the Eucharist,” a book provided by Rev. Enrique Estrada, the pastor at Our Lady of Divine Providence Catholic Church, the celebration started in 1673 when the image of the Immaculate Conception of Mary was brought to Nicaragua by a relative of Saint Teresa of Spain. Nicaraguans began La Purisima during this time.
“They brought the image of the blessed mother to El Viejo, a city in the department of Chinandega, Nicaragua,” Estrada said.
According to the pastor and many other Nicaraguans, like Espinoza, in 1857 Monsignor Giordano Carranza shouted during a mass, “What causes so much joy?” and the churchgoers spontaneously responded, “The conception of Mary!” Since then, the phrases have become the center of the shouting during the festivities.
At Saint Raymond Catholic Church, a small group of Nicaraguans and Rev. Francisco Hernandez met in the parish hall after the 6 p.m. mass to celebrate.
After the mass ended, the crowd poured out and walked in procession, holding a statue of the patroness of Nicaragua, across the street to the parish hall, where they placed the statue on the altar and began to pray.
Efren Ordoñez and his wife, Mirta Ordoñez, kneeling in front of the statue, prayed for guidance and protection of their families.
“It’s a beautiful start to Advent for us,” he said.
Traditionally, people will take to the streets to celebrate by dancing, playing traditional folk music, exploding firecrackers and making La Gigantona, or the giant lady, a giant puppet parody of Spaniards during the time of the conquest, dance and flail her arms around to the beat of marching drums and trumpets.
At West Flagler Street and Southwest 107 Avenue in Sweetwater, the end of the celebration was marked when La Gigantona danced for the crowd, thrashing her arms everywhere, her blonde hair becoming messier as she spun around and around. She then began to dance her way to each altar as the band played and walked behind her.