‘Experiment’ takes DEVILS out of Las Posadas
Move being made in the name of tradition; innkeepers to take demons’ place
After decades of dealing with the devil, this year’s Las Posadas in Santa Fe is an experiment, says Andrew Wulf, director of the New Mexico History Museum, which organizes the event.
The Christmas season pageant on the Plaza Sunday night won’t have a devil or devils berating Mary and Joseph as they search for shelter, in the interest of historical accuracy. The horned ones are giving way to nonsupernatural, “more traditional” innkeepers who will chase the couple away.
Whether the no-devil model is permanent will depend on what
locals have to say.
Las Posadas, a centuries-old Hispanic tradition that translates to “the inns,” depicts Mary and Joseph’s Bethlehem journey. The two cannot find room at any inn and Mary must give birth to Jesus in a stable.
Unlike similar pageants around Latin America and the U.S. that use innkeeper characters, Santa Fe’s Las Posadas for decades has featured devils perched on rooftops, ferociously shooing away Mary and Joseph as they seek shelter at all four corners of the Plaza.
The devils typically elicit loud boos from the crowd with each denial. For many Santa Feans who show up on what is typically a cold winter’s night, booing the devils is a cathartic Christmas tradition.
“We’ve been looking to become more historically accurate with this event,” Wulf said.
But Wulf added that the museum is “sensitive” to the fact that the devils are a part of Santa Fe’s own long-standing Las Posadas custom and ritual, and he is open to community feedback on how to proceed in future years.
“This year is an experiment,” he said.
Wulf said he’ll work with Department of Cultural Affairs Secretary Veronica Gonzales to develop a way to review the 2017 event and previous Las Posadas, and figure out whether future pageants should be devil-free, revert to the devils or go another route.
Wulf, who joined the museum in 2015, said over the past few years it has received community feedback “from every conceivable means of communication,” including word of mouth and visitor feedback cards, requesting a more traditional Las Posadas. Last year, the event featured innkeepers who turned away Mary and Joseph as well as the rooftop devils.
Since news broke of the demons’ removal, he said, the museum hasn’t heard many complaints other than a few comments on visitor cards.
Former museum director Thomas Chavez, who worked with the museum for 21 years and began the Plaza’s Las Posadas in the 1980s, said there was never any conversation during his tenure about expelling the Prince of Darkness from the script.
Santa Fe’s version of Las Posadas with devils originated with a smaller event in one of the city’s east neighborhoods, according to Chavez, and the organizers were eventually invited to bring it to the Plaza.
Wulf and Chavez couldn’t say how devils got involved in the first place. But Chavez said locals liked it and the tradition continued even when east-siders stopped
running the show and the museum started organizing it with a group from the northern Santa Fe County community of Santa Cruz.
Though he’s “disappointed” to hear the devils will be gone this year, Chavez — a revered historian who also has served as executive director of the National Hispanic Culture Center in Albuquerque — isn’t playing the devil’s advocate. He said he understands that traditions evolve.
He said a main advantage of having the devils was they could be on the rooftops and speak down at Mary, Joseph and the large crowd. But if the innkeepers are to go up on the roofs, they could be just as good, he said.
The characters’ messages won’t be much different in Las Posadas 2017, according to Wulf. He said devils have always recited from a “historically accurate and sanctioned” text that’s read by innkeeper actors in other cities.
“The role, whether it’s an innkeeper or a devil, it still has the same function of denying shelter,” he said.
Roger Atkins, who played a devil from 201113, clad in a red jacket, red face paint and a black hat with devil horns popping out of the sides, said the character became unique “schtick” for Santa Fe’s Las Posadas, and the crowds loved it.
People would get excited during the performance, Atkins said. He described the devil as a “jeering” character who makes fun of Mary and Joseph. Many would also take photos with him afterward in the Palace of the Governors courtyard. “It was fun playing the role, and it was fun raising the crowd’s interest,” he said.
Atkins, who lived in Santa Fe for a decade until moving to Boone, N.C., in 2014, said he was sad to hear about the devil tradition being halted. But he added that a different version could garner just as much excitement, “If the innkeepers play it up,” he said.
As someone who played an innkeeper last year, Wulf said his turning away of Mary and Joseph got the same reaction as the devils — an equal level of boos from the crowd, which he said is “all part of the fun.”
As for any possible effect on attendance, Wulf said he’ll have to wait and see Sunday’s turnout. He said that depending on the weather, Las Posadas has attracted between a few hundred and approximately two thousand Santa Feans and tourists.
“We hope people still come out, and it’s still a wonderful community event,” he said.
A crowd gathers around the couple playing Mary and Joseph during the 2013 Las Posadas on the Plaza.
Roger Atkins, as one of the Las Posadas devils, denies shelter to Mary and Joseph from a Plaza rooftop in 2010.