The Shepherds' Play
By Wallace Woolsey, Ph.D.
W /hen the Spaniards reached
the New World, alongside
the conquistadors came the Christian
padres, a great evangelical and cultural
force. These devout missionaries, faced
with the task of bringing the gospel story
to a vast new country with many tongues
and no written language, turned to dramatization
of the Christmas story and
others. Thus the pastorela, the story of
the shepherds and the Christ Child, became
the important vehicle of religious
instruction in their work among the natives.
This pastorela is a lengthy dramatic
presentation of the shepherds as they
make their way to Bethlehem.
The Edinburg pastorela is one of a
cycle of such works to be found in South
Texas and Mexico. This particular pastorela
came to my attention in the form
of a photostatic copy taken from a cuaderno,
or copybook, many years ago. Dr.
Rebecca Switzer, a longtime director of
the Department of Foreign Languages of
Texas Woman's University in Denton,
Texas, secured this copybook from a family
in Edinburg, Texas, and was able to
have a copy made. The original was returned
to Edinburg, and I have not been
able to locate it again.
In this particular play, the shepherds
bear the traditional names of Parrado,
Tebano, Bato, Bartolo, Cucharon, Naval,
Toringo, Julio, Gerardo, Melicio,
Mengo, and Lizardo. In addition there
are Gila the shepherdess, the Ermitano
(Hermit), San Miguel (St. Michael),
Luzbel (Lucifer) and the demon Asmodeo
(Asmodeus). The heading reads: Pastorela
in tres jornadas (Shepherds' Play in
The action opens with a song which
De la gran Jeruzalem
From the great proud Jerusalem
sale una estrella brillante
comes forth a star that's shining bright
y a los pastores va guiando
and guides the shepherds on their way
para el portal de Belen
to the manger of Bethlethem.
Photo of the shepherds in the play. Taken by
Elicson Photography, San Antonio, Texas.
Courtesy of the Institute of Texan Cultures.
As they set out with this song, the
shepherds meet Asmodeus, and later Lucifer.
The latter learns of the holy birth
and calls on all his legions. He cites the
long history of his former rank and fall,
pointing to the Old Testament prophecies
such as Daniel, Ezekiel and Isaiah. The
Hermit comes out singing, meets Parrado,
and arranges to see the shepherds
that night. With a short song the others
They describe the magnificent church
they would build. Asmodeus again tries to
stop them, but they set out with another
caminata (traveling song) and are joined
by the Hermit. They stop, and Gila prepares
supper: tamales and cabrito. The
Hermit praises her cooking. Bartolo the
Lazy One takes a nap. They call on St.
Michael, who appears and tells them the
wonderful news. Parrado asks for a gift for
news which he brings, and after they all
make offers, he tells them of a brilliant
bird that sang of the glory of God-his
version of the heavenly angel.
Soon Lucifer appears, harangues them,
and tries to prevent them from going on
to Bethlehem. However, St. Michael
comes to their aid and sends Lucifer on
his way. Here there is a notation: "Second
Act. Rest." Nowhere is there any indication
of the beginning of the third act. But
again there are "songs for the road." They
stop to eat, and it is Gila who serves the
food. The Hermit invites himself, after
which Asmodeus speaks with him and
tries to tempt him with glowing offers of
food, women, and a life of ease. Lucifer
also tries to entrap Cucharon.
In a touch of comedy Cucharon confuses
the Messiah (Mesias) with his uncle
Matias, much to the frustration of Lucifer.
Cucharon calls on God, and at the
sound of his name Lucifer withdraws.
Cucharon and the Hermit compare notes
on their encounters with the Devil.
There is another meeting of St. Michael
and Lucifer with a long harangue. St.
Michael is victorious and places his feet
upon Lucifer's neck. With Lucifer thus
vanquished the shepherds in their song
proclaim, "corrido va, el lucifer" ("old Lucifer
is on the run").
There is more song as the group draws
near to the holy birthplace. One by one
they approach the manger; each has a
song of adoration for Mary and the Child,
and each brings a gift. Parrado upbraids
them for leaving the cattle, and they explain
how they arranged it. Each shepherd
describes a gift that he brings-a
cow for milk, a cock, baskets, linen
cloths, spoons, a mandolin, sashes, and
cloths. One who has no gift is told that
his heart is sufficient gift.
After that follows the game of spinning
the top, pirinola, and put and take, pon y
saca, with songs for each letter. Again
gifts are named-sweet rolls, honeycomb,
tamales, lambs. Lucifer utters one
last lament before returning to Hell. All
the shepherds sing lullabies and prepare
to depart. The conclusion consists of
their songs of farewell.
A second pastorela from Texas is that
of Rio Grande City, first reported by Captain
John Bourke, who saw a presentation
of it in December 1891. There was no
text, but the chief shepherd, Francisco
Collazo, had memorized the entire play
and was persuaded by Bourke to write it
down. Bourke presented this copy to the
American Folklore Society, and under its
auspices the play was translated by M. R.
Cole and published by Houghton Mifflin
The third Texas pastorela is found in
San Antonio and is entitled Los Pastores,
A Christmas Drama of Old Mexico. It was
taken from a notebook brought from
Mexico by Mr. Leandro Granados of San
Antonio. He had been a participant in
Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 4, Number 3, Winter 1986. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45440/. Accessed November 26, 2015.