‘Ex­per­i­ment’ takes DEVILS out of Las Posadas

Move be­ing made in the name of tra­di­tion; innkeep­ers to take demons’ place

Albuquerque Journal - - JOURNAL NORTH - BY ME­GAN BEN­NETT JOUR­NAL NORTH

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.

Great ‘schtick’?

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.

PHOTO BY HAN­NAH ABELBECK

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.

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