Poor Joseph and pregnant Mary wander in the woods looking for a shelter. An Angel announces the birth of Christ. A group of shepherds, alerted by the announcement, gather to welcome the newborn. The Devils from Hell, enraged by the news, let go their anger against the Angels, who will fight them back. This is the plot of Els Pastorets (The Little Shepherds) the most performed theater play in Catalonia and a long established Christmas tradition in our country.
The play stages the biblical passage of the Birth of Christ, mixed with battle of good and evil and comical scenes acted out by the shepherds. The origins of Els Pastorets date back to the middle ages, but the tradition that lives on today began at the beginning of the XX century. The play is performed every Christmas, from mid December to mid January, in many towns and villages of Catalonia.
The plays are traditionally performed by local companies of amateurs, people from the villages who rehearse from the end of summer and the tradition has the aim of engaging as many local communities as possible: musicians, artists, etc… The plot is always the same, but some of its parts or dialogues are in some cases changed featuring the particularities of each town or village or making reference to social or political events that have taken place during the year. Anyway, people go to see Pastorets year after year as one more of the Christmas events and, of course, to see their relatives or neighbors on stage.
In towns with the longest Pastorets tradition, the plays are a major event in the community and their performances put more than one hundred people on stage, along with some live animals and even sophisticated special effects: flying angels, Virgins Mary levitating or Devils burning in Hell. Some of the most well-known and “professionalized” Pastorets are those from the towns of Calaf, Ulldecona or El Vendrell. In those towns, playing a major role in the show is an honor not easy to achieve. In Barcelona, the traditional Pastorets are performed in the different districts or traditional neighborhoods in their community centers and theaters.
Els Pastorets are also performed by children at schools. Children prepare the show at school and perform for the parents-audience on the last day of school before Christmas Holidays. These tradition, though, has been becoming less popular at schools because of the religious subject matter.
Being a religious tradition in an every day less religious society, it might surprise that Els Pastorets has lived on till our days, but the truth is that the popular tradition has been updated to modern versions and musical outstanding shows. Instead of disappearing, it seems that Pastorets are growing with more performances, representations and versions year after year.