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Historic El Presidio Park Sets Stage for Historic Holiday Play

Santa Barbara version of 'La Pastorela' was transcribed by Pablo de la Guerra in mid-19th century

Amateur performers from the community play lead roles in “La Pastorela.”
Amateur performers from the community play lead roles in “La Pastorela.” (Los Pastores de Santa Barbara)

The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) and Los Pastores de Santa Barbara present La Pastorela (A Shepherd’s Play) at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17 and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18, at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park.

La Pastorela is one of Santa Barbara’s oldest and most beautiful Christmas traditions. Dramatizing the epic battle between good and evil, the play invokes elements of spectacle, comedy and fantasy.

La Pastorela is the tale of the pastores’ (shepherds) journey to Bethlehem to witness the birth of Christ. The shepherds’ journey is fraught with temptations, distractions and peril as the devil tries to prevent them from reaching their destination.

While hundreds of unique versions of the play exist, this pastorela was transcribed in the mid-19th century by Pablo de la Guerra, the then-patriarch of the local de la Guerra family.

Based on performances de la Guerra witnessed in Santa Barbara, the de la Guerra version is housed at the Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library among the de la Guerra family papers. The performance is conducted entirely in Spanish and incorporates early California song and dance.

La Pastorela is produced and directed by Elvira Tafoya of Los Pastores de Santa Barbara. Tafoya has been involved in La Pastorela performances in Santa Barbara since 1975 and has successfully collaborated many times with SBTHP to conduct performances in the Presidio Chapel.

Dr. Anne Petersen, SBTHP executive director, said, “SBTHP is honored to host this local Christmas tradition again this year at the Presidio Chapel. Elvira Tafoya and her group of talented actors have transformed a historic script into a living tradition.”

Keeping with tradition, Los Pastores has recruited amateur actors from the community to take on the 10 principal roles in the play.

Tafoya, a teacher and organizer in the Santa Barbara community said, "We are excited to have Pastorela back at the Presidio. This project gives us the opportunity to keep a Mexican tradition alive and to share it with the entire community.”

Tickets may be purchased in advance at the gift shop at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park or at the door before each performance. Prices are $6 for SBTHP members and children 12 and younger; $12 for adults. For more information, call 965-0093 or go to www.sbthp.org.

— Alyssa Kichula for Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.

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