There are few icons as deeply entrenched in our culture as those associated with holidays — for one of any of a dozen festive days, we know what to expect: Independence Day = fireworks and barbecue; Thanksgiving = orgiastic feasting; Easter = eggs, chocolate and renewal; Christmas = grassy-haired peasants and a contrite devil.

Say what?

The last comes to us courtesy of the pastorela, a dramatic tradition that came to the Americas in the 1500s with the first Spanish settlers. These religious theatrical dramas, while first employed by the church to acquaint natives with dogmatic tradition, came to be adopted, and adapted, by the peasants themselves, often with deeply satirical stylings.

This year, the tradition returns to Ventura County, courtesy of Teatro de las Américas, with its family-friendly musical roadshow, Pasto-Re-La. Following its debut at the Bell Arts Factory last weekend, the show brings its music and mischief to Thousand Oaks, Los Angeles and Oxnard between now and Christmas week.

“Pastorelas started with the monks that came to Mexico during the conquest,” notes producer Margaret Cortese. “They would do plays to help proselytize the indigenous people; but what happened over the years is that the people took it over, having fun with what was intended to be very solemn.”

Pasto-Re-La offers the tale of the shepherds of San Verdito (St. Greenie), a grassy-haired lot whose world is turned topsy-turvy when their incarnation of the devil, Metichófeles, heartbroken when his girlfriend leaves him, decides to turn over a new leaf and dedicate himself to goodness. The trouble is, the humble shepherds aren’t ready for such a reformation, and thus endeavor to subvert his path to purity. Before the final curtain, it will take the good faith of a small blind girl to help him find his way, between strawberry fields and the 101, to his date with destiny and redemption. Penned by Mexico City’s world-class harpist Mercedes Gómez-Benet and Olmar Guzman and under the direction of Teatro veteran Christina Aerenlund, the lively musical offers a new spin on some old notions, with appeal for the entire family.

Long known for pushing the boundaries of mainstream theater, Teatro de las Américas once again strikes into territory that is both very new and very old (the form is thought to be the first European theatrical production in the history of the Americas) with Pasto-Re-La. The result is a thought-provoking blend of old and new that offers much more than the rote re-telling of too-familiar nutcrackers and the wistful musings of Tiny Tim. That provocation is exactly the point for the roadshow theater group.

“It’s part of our mission to make an emotional connection with our audience,” Cortese offers, “to leave them thinking, which, after all, is where theater belongs.”   

“Pasto-Re-La,” Dec. 4 at California Lutheran University, Dec. 5 at Presentation of Mary Catholic Church, Los Angeles, Dec. 12 and 13 at South Oxnard Community Center and December 18-19 at Café on A in Oxnard. Tickets, $5 for adults and $3 for children and seniors. For more information, call 485-5445.

jimscolari@yahoo.com