Each winter, Catalan towns celebrate the Christmas season with a local production of Els Pastorets, or “The Beloved Shepherds.” For the last five years, the Casal Català de Washington, D.C., a local Catalan community organization, has included this Christmas pageant in its activities.
The play is a modernized version of the medieval mystery plays performed across Europe to dramatize religious stories at major points in the Roman Catholic calendar, making them more accessible to a larger number of people. In the early 1900s, Catalans were actively exploring the literary potential of their language as part of a greater cultural renaissance, and several writers produced scripts that still inspire these performances. To this day, the ritual calendar organizes much of the shared social and cultural activity of Catalan communities: it provides regular opportunities for people to build community and experience convivència—living together and making space for difference.
The play unfolds in three major episodes. In the first part, two typical Catalan peasants are tempted by evil and end up in the hands of the devil. After a celebration of the powers of darkness, Saint Michael intervenes to save them. They then assist a young woman and her elderly father escape from a pact with the devil. In the end, they join a group of others who visit the newly born baby Jesus.
This year, the celebration in D.C. ended with the ritual of Caga Tió, where children feed a log that ultimately excretes presents, after being beaten with a stick. The adults also raised a class of cava.
The Casal Català works to support Catalan families in the D.C. metro area in their efforts to maintain Catalan traditions and language.
Michael Atwood Mason is the director of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and a devil in the D.C. production of El Pastorets.