One of the most important celebrations of the Nicaraguan Christmas season is La Purísima. In late November and early December, this religious festival takes place in the streets, when thousands of Granadinos come together to honor La Purísima Concepción de María, or “The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.” The worship of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is an ancient tradition in the Catholic Church. La Purísima is thought to have originated in Spain, perhaps as early as the 7th century A.D. Since the 18th century, “La Purísima” has been celebrated across Nicaragua, usually as private prayers and rituals in family homes.
By Katharine Stevens
But in Granada, La Purísima is celebrated in the street … in a marvelous, nine-day public festival, joyously honoring Granada’s own icon of the Virgin Mary, affectionately referred to by locals as “La Conchita” (the Spanish diminutive for “The Conception”).
According to legend, “La Conchita” arrived in Granada almost three hundred years ago, on December 7th, 1721. That day, some local women washing clothes in Lake Nicaragua saw a wooden box floating nearby.
According to legend, “La Conchita” arrived in Granada almost three hundred years ago, on December 7th, 1721. That day, some local women washing clothes in Lake Nicaragua saw a wooden box floating nearby. Despite their efforts to catch it, the box mysteriously kept floating just out of their reach. Considering this a miracle, the women ran to the Convent of Saint Francis to inform the friars about their finding.
As the story is told, only the friars were finally able to retrieve the box. It was finally opened, revealing its contents to the amazement of onlookers: a beautiful icon of the Virgin Mary. She was immediately taken to Granada’s Cathedral, where she can still be seen standing aloft on her high altar overlooking the Cathedral’s interior.
Many miracles have been attributed to “La Conchita,” and Nicaraguans widely believed in the Virgin’s ability to protect cities against invaders and natural disasters. In 1862, “La Conchita” was even promoted to the rank of General of Nicaragua’s Armed Forces by presidential decree.
In Granada, La Purísima is an extended festivity - celebrated for nine consecutive nights, each night on one of nine major streets of the city’s center. Every evening from November 29th to December 7th, “La Conchita” is carried from the Cathedral (next to the Parque Central) to one of these nine traditionally-chosen streets. Street associations spend months raising money to build a special altar for their street, carefully prepared to receive “La Conchita” for a few hours during La Purísima. Hundreds of Granadinos gather at the night’s altar to worship the Virgin, especially to show their devotion and gratitude for miracles granted.
“La Conchita” is then placed on an elaborately-decorated float - also built by that evening’s street association - and ceremoniously paraded through the streets for her return to the Cathedral, in a massive and colorful procession honoring Granada´s most beloved patron. On arrival at the Cathedral, “La Conchita” is carried into its towering halls, where the city's devout await to kiss her feet and offer prayers. Outside the Cathedral, thousands of Granadinos gather, and fireworks light up the Parque Central. The following evening at sunset, “La Conchita” is again ceremoniously borne from the Cathedral to the next street’s festivities!
If you’re in Granada during La Purísima, you can take part in this lively, fascinating celebration - it begins at about 6pm each night on the following streets:
- November 29: El Arsenal; November 30: Santa Lucía; December 1: Altrevesada; December 2: La Inmaculada; December 3: Sur Xalteva; December 4: La Concepción; December 5: Palmira; December 6: Cuiscoma; December 7: La Calzada.