When I was a child growing up in the Dominican Republic there was a legend about a lady called La Vieja Belen. In church, a week after Epiphany a nun used to dress up as La Vieja Belen used to gift little presents to children who would attend church on that day. I was intrigued by who was La Vieja Belen. I researched her story and how it became part of the Dominican Republic's folklore. The story of La Vieja Belen is very sweet and leaves on us a legacy of not forgetting about the meaning of Christmas.
La Vieja Belen
La Vieja Belen whose name translates into English as the Old Lady Bethlehem is a tradition followed in the Dominican Republic. It is believed that her story was introduced into the Dominican Republic by Italian immigrants during the 19th century. There was a traditional get-together celebrated by these Italians in which a good witch called Befana would come and visit children after Epiphany. Epiphany is known as El Dia de Los Reyes Magos in the Dominican Republic which is celebrated on January 6th. On January 6th, the visiting of the Three Wisemen is commemorated by gifting all children their Christmas gifts, just as Baby Jesus received them.Befana was also called La Vieja Belen and supposedly she would come home with a bag filled with candies and toys and gift them to well-behaved children. Children who didn't behave well throughout the year would receive a piece of burned charcoal wrapped as candy.
This story was spread around and popularized in the Dominican Republic and it became part its traditional folklore after a few touches were added by Dominican writers. At the same time, it became a medium tool for poor parents who did not have enough resources to buy gifts for their children to postpone the celebration of El Dia de Los Reyes Magos (Epiphany). Once ends were met by these poor parents and gifts could be purchased and given; the story of La Vieja Belen would be told. It was made believed that La Vieja Belen brought these children gifts in behalf of the Three Wisemen.
In the story of La Vieja Belen, she is described as an old lady, devoted grandmother, and a good-doer. During the rainiest season, she would bring into her home poor orphan children, feed them, wash their clothes, and lodge them until the season ended. She was also known for being an excellent housekeeper; whenever she wasn't helping others she would be cleaning her house. Her house although small was clean and organized like a palace. Since D.R. is a tropical island, the rainiest season is the winter season.
One quiet and starry night a bright star arouse on the West. On the same night, three traveling kings searching for the Yonder star got lost and ended up in the Dominican Republic near a village where Belen lived. Villagers suggested the kings visit Belen who was a very kind old lady who would lodge them and point them to the star. The three kings knocked on her door and she opened overly excited. As she knew that these kings were searching for the Redeemer of the World. Belen lodged them, served dinner to them, while they spoke about the King being born. The Three Wisemen indeed glanced out of Belen's window and saw the Yonder Star. "We must continue our journey and find the Baby King born in a manger" they recalled. After leaving, The Three Wisemen left a bag with presents behind. Belen decided to take the bag and bring it to the Baby King. She follows the Yonder Star leaving gifts to children around the world in the hope that one of these children is the Baby King, himself.
After knowing how the story of La Vieja Belen is told I was delighted. It is a beautiful story of faith and well-doing. Even, if it is imaginary I am excited to have shared it with you. As well as sharing a little of my favorite childhood folk tales.