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San Sebastián Festival

Every January, Diriamba celebrates the feast day of the city's patron saint, Saint Sebastian. Las Fiestas Patronales de San Sebastián officially run from the 17th to the 27th, during which the city erupts–costumed revellers color the streets in song and dance; fireworks light the sky. Mixing traditions that predate the arrival of the Spanish, Catholicism and storytelling, the annual festival is widely revered as Nicaragua's truest link to its indigenous and Spanish heritage.

On the third day of the festival Holy mass takes place in the town's Basilica. Afterwards an image of San Sebastián travels to the town of Dolores to meet San Marcos of San Marcos and San Santiago of Jinotepe. It is believed that all three saints traveled from Spain and journeyed inland together, and reunited three times a year at each town's fiesta. Festival-goers, dancers and musicians on foot and horseback form a procession with the images, and the next day, January 20th, all three patron saints arrive back in Diriamba.

The day of the feast it is customary for locals to offer food and drink to visitors. Several traditional dances also take place, including the festival's pinnacle, El Güegüense, a satirical play set in the colonial-era. Proclaimed a masterpiece of Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2005, and combining elements of theater, music and dance, the performance is an allegory of indigenous Hondurans' historical encounters with Spanish colonialists. The plot centers around the brassy title character, El Gueguense (honored elder), who is brought before a colonial court on minor charges. Using witty wordplay in a mix of Spanish and Nahuatl, he is able to aquit himself while slyly insulting the Spanish. Performed as a street procession, the wooden-masked, elaborately costumed characters, accompanied by dancers and musicians, parade through the streets, stopping to recite lines and joke with the crowds. El Gueguense is televised nationally, and actors often rehearse daily for up to eight months before the festival.

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