The shepherd’s Christmas tale returns to the stage
The story of the first Christmas shepherd, La Pastorela, will return to the Garcia Opera on Sunday December 11 at 1 p.m. pandemic.
Historical writings cite a nativity play considered to be a predecessor of La Pastorela which was performed in 1530 in Tlatelolco, Mexico. There was also a Coloquio de Los Pastores produced in Sinaloa in 1595.
Over time, many communities across Nuevo Mexico have performed these “miracle” plays.
Using an ancient manuscript found at Las Nutrias in 1972, the archaic Spanish colonial presentation of La Gran Pastorela de Belen is not too different from what a performance would have been 200 years ago.
La Gran Pastorela de Belen, a group of amateur actors, has carried on the tradition for decades.
The Belen group performed the piece in numerous locations in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona.
It’s a play, or historical re-enactment, interspersed with morals and other Christian principles in romantic prose and a bit of humor.
Long before books and movies, people preserved faith and culture by telling stories. La Pastorela is the result of this oral tradition.
La Pastorela is one of the plays used to teach children about the Nativity. It is the story of simple shepherds invited by an angel to go to see the baby Jesus in Belen. As the shepherds make their way to Belen, they stumble with human weaknesses.
Presenting the story has been a traditional part of the Christmas season in Socorro thanks to the efforts of the late Bobby Romero who for many years assumed responsibility for producing the play featuring elementary school children. Sheri Armijo and Ricardo Berry took over this responsibility for another seven years.
Armijo said to keep this in historical perspective, it is still interpreted in the original language.
“It wasn’t even written down, it was transmitted orally at first and everything was archaic, traditional Spanish, so there are a lot of archaic expressions and poetic expressions that wouldn’t translate well in English,” a- she declared.
The original Pastorela made in New Mexico could last up to three hours.
“Our show is about an hour and a half,” she said.
But sometimes in the past if you had a community where a lot of people wanted to perform, you would add all those extra parts, ”she said. “There is evidence of performance in Spain where they would have more than one demon. They had a devil’s dance.
“And San Miguel too. He could be represented with a band of angels, ”she said.
There are approximately 70 documented versions of the New Mexico Shepherds play.
The first version of Socorro belonged to Juan Julian Torres in 1886. Torres was Socorro County Clerk from 1882 to 1886.
Anastacio Torres led a Socorro group from the early 1900s until 1933, and in 1953 Salomon A. Apodaca, a shepherd from the Socorro region, conducted a revival of the play with Socorro’s Knights of Columbus.
The play has been presented by Los Pastores de Belen for over 30 years. The band members are Armijo de Socorro as Gila and Berry as Lucifer.
“This is my 12th year with Gila,” Armijo said. “Gila is responsible for keeping all these men in line and making them behave.”
She feeds them too.
“All they have is mutton, but they have grand dreams of eating tamales, green chili stew and desserts,” she said. “And when they ask her these things, she gives them mutton stew again. It’s a very funny scene.
Armijo said the play preserved the Spanish language in New Mexico by mixing elements of Golden Age Spanish poetry and colonial folk expressions from New Mexico.
“It is above all a devotion, and historically it is very important for me because it goes back to the golden age of Spain, and even to the Greek roots,” she said. “Some of the names of our shepherds come from Greek characters. And our choir is like the classical Greek choir that helps tell part of the story in songs.
The current writing comes from the village of Las Nutrias.
La Pastorela begins with the singing of traditional Spanish songs followed by the entrada of actors from the back of the audience.
The birth of the baby Jesus is announced by the Archangel Michael, whom Lucifer tries in vain to discredit. When the shepherds arrive in Bethlehem, they worship the baby Jesus and offer one by one their humble gifts to Mary, with the exception of the lazy Bartolo, who would rather sleep than see the baby Jesus.
Each of the shepherds tries to wake Bartolo and eventually persuade him to see the Niño. When Bartolo looks at the infant Jesus, he is overcome with emotion and guilt – ashamed to ignore the infant.
The play ends with the singing, in Spanish, of popular Christmas carols, such as Silent Night and Feliz Navidad.
“This year we are only doing three shows. We had up to six shows scheduled last year and had to cancel all of them. This year, we have had some who have pulled out again, ”she said. “In addition to the Socorro show, we are having a show in Belen on December 5th and a show in Meadowlake in Valencia County.”
The Friends of El Camino Real historic trail site has sponsored the La Gran Pastorela de Belen play in recent years. This year, Socorro’s beloved Christmas event will be presented at 1 p.m. on Saturday, December 11 in the parish hall of the Church of San Miguel de Socorro.
“It’s good to keep the tradition alive because it’s a living history lesson,” said Armijo.