Catholics share Mexican Christmas tradition

Lindsay Steele
Mexican-American Catholics sing and dance for baby Jesus during Las Pastorelas at St. Mary Parish in Davenport on Dec. 24.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — As a child growing up in Mexico, Alicia Nava always wanted to participate in Las Pastorelas, like her older sisters, but never had the opportunity. Las Pastorelas are plays that recreate the biblical passage where the shepherds find the Christ Child. Cities and towns throughout Mexico celebrate this event on Christmas Eve. When St. Mary Parish in Davenport hosted Las Pastorelas for the first time this past Dec. 24, Nava finally had an opportunity to participate. “It was exciting,” she said.

The celebration at St. Mary’s adapted the celebration held annually in La Magdalena de Araceo, a town in Guanajuato about four hours northwest of Mexico City. Most of St. Mary’s participants were from La Magdalena and surrounding communities, but a few were from other regions

Accompanied by a band, participants representing “pastores” (shepherds) stood in two lines in the church’s center aisle. There, they danced and sang songs of praise as they prepared to meet baby Jesus, represented by a statue near the altar.

Organizer Lupe Tellez Garcia said through a translator that each song has a different meaning. The first song asks Mary for permission to sing to Jesus. The second announces Jesus’ coming. One of the verses states this is a holy night because the son is born. The third song expresses the story of the wise men coming to adore Jesus. The fourth song describes where Jesus was born. The fifth song refers to the animals coming to visit the Nativity. “Even though it was winter, the birds came and sang,” Tellez Garcia said. During the sixth song, dancers use a handkerchief and mime rocking baby Jesus to sleep. In the final song, participants ask for Jesus’ blessings.
At St. Mary’s, two men with black masks represented devils, teasing participants and attempting to thwart their efforts to reach Jesus. In the end, good wins over evil. “Even the little devils ask Jesus for his blessing at the end,” Tellez Garcia said. “They go and kneel before him and ask him for a blessing.”

Tellez Garcia said that in La Magdalena, participants throw “colaciones” (confection-coated peanuts) at the devils. To avoid making a mess in the church, participants offered the candies to baby Jesus, placing them in his manger. “Just as wise men gave gifts, so do we,” she said. It was one of a few changes made due to time and space constraints. Organizers also shortened the seven songs. However, they did add one new element to the play — costumes. Usually people participate in street clothes, but Tellez Garcia asked participants to wear red or green Christmas sweaters with black pants.

Participant Gloria Mancilla grew up in Mexico. She said the lyrics and interpretation differ depending on location. “I had very dim memories of the Pastorelas in my home town in Guerrero, Mexico. Every state is different, but our rich culture and beliefs are the same.” She said the Hispanic community at St. Mary’s is diverse, joyful and eager to “share our culture with others.”

Tellez Garcia hopes that the Hispanic Catholic community in Davenport can make Las Pastorelas a yearly event. “The people who participated seemed very joyful. … I would love to continue in the future.”

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