Placing roses on an altar dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Nicaraguan Lester Montalban says he looks forward every December to honoring the patroness of his country.
“We have done this for more than 30 years,” he said. “This is our tradition ever since Our Divine Providence Catholic Church near Sweetwater has held this religious event. We have been doing our altar strictly out of devotion.”
Like Montalban, many other Nicaraguans across South Florida took to the streets to celebrate La Gritería, a Catholic religious and traditional event celebrated in the Central American country. The tradition was celebrated Monday in Kendall, Little Havana and Hialeah. One of the biggest celebrations is in Sweetwater, where Montalban and others prepared the altar at the church’s parking lot.
Montalban says it takes him about a week to prepare and he spends a little more than $500.
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“The money doesn’t matter because God and the Virgin will give us back more,” he said.
La Gritería, which roughly translates to “the yelling,” is a Catholic holiday in Nicaragua. It is a boisterous celebration where Nicaraguan religious followers pray and sing traditional songs before an altar with an image of the Virgin Mary, who is also the Catholic patroness of the United States.
Members of the public walk in procession from altar to altar voicing the emblematic cry of “Who causes so much joy?” Those who created the altars respond: “The Conception of Mary!” Later, gifts, food and drinks are handed out to all attendees.
The tradition started Dec. 7, 1857, in Leon, Nicaragua, when a priest wanted to bring joy to his country after it had endured a national war.
The altar could be placed anywhere — from a corner of a family house to a big stage. It is celebrated every Dec. 7.
Our Divine Providence Catholic Church priest and Nicaraguan Enrique Estrada said the event is not just for Nicaraguans, but for all Catholics.
“Living in Miami, there are so many nationalities,” he said. “We speak the same language, but have cultures and traditions. It’s a day not just for us Nicaraguans but all Catholics. We all honor and celebrate Virgin Mary.”
Lourdes Villas, who celebrated a few blocks from the church, is Cuban. She believes in the Virgin and celebrates La Gritería.
“Our roots are toward the Virgin,” she said. “As a kid, she’s been there for me. I traveled to Spain and I saw her over there and now I see her here today.”