Shepherds Play

     Each year just before students leave school for the holiday vacation, they witness a performance of the Medieval drama, The Shepherds Play. The play comes from Oberufer, an island in the Danube River, east of Vienna, Austria and close to the borders of Hungary. This island was settled by farmers from the Lake Constance region sometime in the 15th Century, and due to the relative isolation of island life, their traditions and folkways remained intact for centuries.

     One of their traditions was to perform these plays each year. In the fall, when the harvest was in, the players were chosen regardless of religious affiliation or status, and received their parts from an esteemed farmer who would direct the plays for years, and then pass this honorable responsibility on to his son. The songs and words were passed on by word of mouth for generations.

     In the middle of the 19th century, a professor from Vienna, Karl Julius Schröer, who was researching folklore and regional traditions, discovered the Oberufer Plays (which in addition to The Shepherds Play included The Paradise Play and The Three Kings Play). He was charmed and impressed by them and returned a few years later to write down as much as he could. Years later this professor became the teacher and revered friend of Rudolf Steiner.

      Towards the end of the 19th century Professor Schröer spoke to Dr. Steiner about these plays. His enthusiasm and concern about the possible loss of such precious folkways touched Steiner, who quickly realized their beauty and proceeded to bring order to the sketchy script and the music. In 1910 the first revived performance took place in Berlin, Germany.

     From then on, these plays have become part of the Christmas time tradition for many Waldorf schools all over the world. They were first translated by Cecil Harwood, from England, who tried to keep intact the medieval way of speaking and the simple beauty of expression.

     The Shepherds Play is a simple and lovely, oftentimes funny and touching play. It tells the tale, taken from the Gospel of Saint Luke, of how a few simple shepherds became aware of the birth of the Christ Child and how they responded from the depths of their hearts. Though it is a story out of the Christian tradition, we in the Waldorf movement feels its greatest strength and importance is in how it portrays the awe and wonder one can feel in the face of the power of life in the universe.

     In his song, Cry of a Tiny Babe, contemporary musician Bruce Cockburn shows how the glory of the birth of Christ is equally true for the birth and potential of each human being:



And there are others who know of this miracle birth

The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth

For it isn’t to the palace that the Christ child comes

But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums


And the message is clear if you have ears to hear

The forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fear

It’s a Christmas gift that you don’t have to buy

There’s a future shining in a baby’s eyes


     The play, usually performed by members of the faculty and adults in the community, will be presented with a unique twist this year. We warmly invite the entire community to join us at 11:00- 12:00 on December 17, 2010 in the Community Hall to witness this simple, yet profound offering which speaks to what it means to be truly human.

     Submitted by David Barham