PASTORES: A Uniquely Bicolano Christmas Tradition By Sam Milano

Long before Christmas trees and Santa Claus became a part of our holiday celebrations, the Pastores Bicol was the Bicolanos’ beautiful commemoration of Christmas.  The Pastores is a musical re-enactment of the age-old nativity story. Colorful costumes are worn by singers, in honor of the biblical shepherds who sang the first Christmas carols. The performance is done with an entourage of traditional musikeros, lots of dancing to the tune of Pastores a Belen, and a generous dose of Christmas cheer. It is caroling, Bicol style.

Taken from the Spanish word, Pastoras which means shepherdess, it applies to both male and female. These are small groups from four to twelve girls with an occasional male or two. All-male groups can be found in Tabaco Albay. In Camarines Sur, these “dancing girls of Christmas” dressed in colorful festive costumes, appear on Christmas Day up to the Epiphany – 13 days of house to house singing and dancing – commemorative of shepherds proclaiming glad tidings. It is the followup to Kagharong, the reenactment of Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary’s plight as they looked for a place to stay in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.


Pastoras was once part of Pasko. The songs and dances are preserved and inherited by the family and relatives of the parabalo or trainer. Girls were usually selected for their good looks, voice and talent or being marhay mag compass. In those days, it was an honor to be visited by the Pastoras because they usually go to the prominent members of the community.


It’s been two years since the last Pastores in Calabanga Camarines Sur took place. This may be due to the expenses’ inability to catch up with the returns. In Legazpi City, however, the Pastores Bicol Festival is held on December 18.




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