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The old Belén bets the last chance

The Old Belen

Each country has its own way of celebrating Christmas; however the Dominican Republic has very distinct characteristics and differences compared to other neighboring countries.

For example, in Central America on December 25th is the date in which, as a custom, the children receive their gifts, in our country is on January 6th. The arrival of the Three Kings is a cause of joy for all kids because they know there will be many presents left by the famous visitors. It is not very common to hear Christmas carols either.

In fact, the old merengues are the ones (hits of the 70s and 80s) that announce Christmas arrival. Besides all these differences, there is a very peculiar character that highlights during this time and you have never heard about it in anywhere else: the old Belén, even though she does not always show up in holidays because her presence depends on several factors. By using public imagination, the lady is someone very advanced in years, who mysteriously turns up to make very humble gifts when for some reason (usually due to the economic conditions of families) children have received gifts on those days usually intended for this custom: December 24th (the Child Jesus or Santa Claus, by region and custom) or January 6th (the Three Kings). Therefore, the Old Belén always comes after these dates, usually next Sunday although it is not a fixed rule.

The legend has some similarities to the Italian tradition of La Befana, a good-natured old woman who passes herself off for Santa Claus getting into the chimneys of houses to leave gifts to children, but just on the eve of Epiphany. The legend may have reached the island by emigrants and hence the Dominican version could have started from this point.

Beyond its origin, the fact is that the old Belén becomes the last chance for many children to receive Christmas gifts. It is estimated that it comes from the final economic effort of parents or businesses that donate season toys left, because they reinforced the idea that there was hope of receiving something, even after the Three Kings' day.

Rescuing the old lady

As many other traditions, the arrival of old Belén is no longer present in mass memory but several Dominicans have been joined efforts to rescue these traditions idle. For instance, the Dominican writer Julia Alvarez has immortalized the character in her book "The best present ever: the legend of the old Belén" explaining that it is a symbol of hope and solidarity with the less fortunate. Moreover, in recent years the typical restaurant Adrian Tropical, has chosen the fi rst Sunday after the Epiphany to invite the old Belén to each its places to give candy and typical toys to guests at the entrance. You don't need to suffer if Santa Claus or the Three Kings forgot you in Christmas time, the old Belén is the last chance.

TEXT: Geizel Torres IMAGES: External Source