Las Pastores is a popular holiday drama that has survived the ages. Nearly every cultural group in Santa Fe has performed the holiday rite at one time or another. Community groups gather each year to preform renditions of Las Pastores. The tale is that of the shepherds on their journey to pay homage to the Christ Child. The holiday drama came to the New World in the late 16th century with the Spanish missionaries. It carried on primarily through oral tradition among families in Mexico and the American Southwest.
The Ancient Influences of New Mexico
This time of year there’s a blending of Moorish and Native American culture in New Mexico. The traditional Hispanic winter pageants, Los Matachines and Los Moros y Cristianos came from two different cultures. Los Matachines originated with the Moors of North Africa. The dance arrived in America with the Spanish. Later, the Indian Pueblos adopted the dance. Los Moros y Cristianos is an old drama depicted as the holiday ritual known as Los Comanches.
The performance ritual, Los Matachines, is believed to be of Arabic origin. The Franciscan missionaries used the dance as a proselytizing instrument to teach Catholicism to the Indians. The Matachín dancers most probably entered Spain from Morocco. In the Diccionario de la Lengua Español, matachín is translated from the Arabic word meaning “masked.” In the performance the 12 masked dancers represent the 12 apostles. Since the dance is performed as entertainment, the Matachines are more akin to sacred clowns.