Plaza-goers will have a devil of a time trying to see Lucifer in Las Posadas on Sunday evening.
He won’t be there.
This would be the second time in recent years that the roles of the four devils who have appeared for decades in the annual Christmastime procession would be exorcised.
For more than 30 years, the New Mexico History Museum, in partnership with a group of congregants from a Catholic church in the village of Santa Cruz, has presented the open-air pageant on the Plaza, which portrays Mary and Joseph’s journey to find a safe place for Mary to give birth to the baby Jesus. The four devils traditionally appeared on downtown rooftops to taunt the pair — until the roles were ousted in 2017 by the museum’s former director. The state Department of Cultural Affairs, which oversees the museum, brought them back the following year.
This time, said the museum’s interim director, Billy Garrett, the museum was not behind the decision to banish the devils.
“The decision about whether there would be devils or not was left up to the group that was going to be doing the ceremony,” Garrett said, referring to the informal group from La Iglesia de Santa Cruz de la Cañada that has organized the procession each year since the museum began presenting the event.
Sylvia Garcia, the leader of the Santa Cruz church group, could not be reached for comment about the banished devils.
Garrett said the museum reached out to the group months ago to confirm it planned to continue organizing Las Posadas.
“They stressed with us that this is an offering to the Santa Fe community and visitors,” he said, “and their wanting to celebrate family, tradition and love, and set up the season.”
In 2017, Andrew Wulf, the director of the New Mexico History Museum, chose to cast away the devils himself — but had support from the Santa Cruz group. A longtime nun at the church, Sister Angelina “Angie” Gonzales, told The New Mexican at the time that she found Santa Fe’s interpretation of the traditional Hispanic Christmas dramatization unusual and that she had raised objections.
“They’re not supposed to be in there,” she said of the devils. “They’re supposed to have innkeepers, not devils or anybody else. The story calls for innkeepers.”
Wulf agreed, saying, “We’re just reverting back to the traditional practice of Las Posadas, which has innkeepers in those roles. … Why would a devil be saying, ‘There’s no room at the inn’?”
But the museum had a change of heart, bringing back the devils for the 2018 pageant. State officials from the Department of Cultural Affairs called the local portrayal “unique” and said they felt they should “honor this established local folk art performance.”
Some experts on New Mexico historical traditions dispute that Santa Fe’s version of Las Posadas veers from the norm.
An article in the Winter 2019 edition of El Palacio magazine by Nicolasa Chávez, the curator of Latino/Hispano/Spanish Colonial collections at the Museum of International Folk Art, discusses the appearance of the devil in many New Mexico Christmas traditions.
Chávez, who played the role of the devil in the 2018 Las Posadas performance in Santa Fe, wrote, “the Devil regularly appeared in early productions of Las Posadas across Northern New Mexico.” She cited examples from Arroyo Seco and five other plays in which Lucifer makes an appearance.
Wulf, who was fired in February, faced criticism from local residents over some of the decisions he made in his four-year tenure, such as trying to end a long practice of hanging of Spanish coats of arms on the portal of the Palace of the Governors during Fiesta de Santa Fe celebrations, ousting the devils from Las Posadas and hosting a “Fiesta Symposium” with a panel that did not include any local Hispanic people.
He was making $91,441 a year, according to the state’s online Sunshine Portal.
Garrett is serving as interim director of the New Mexico History Museum until the museum’s board of regents hire a more permanent replacement.
Another change for this year’s Las Posadas: After the pageant, carolers will provide entertainment and hot cider and cookies will be served under the portal of the Palace of the Governors at the New Mexico History Museum, not in the museum’s courtyard. According to a news release, the change is due to an “abundance of caution” related to a courtyard tree damaged by recent winds.