Among the stories concerning the birth of Jesus, one of my favorites is the wise men from the east, who sought a king and brought gifts. This may have inspired our custom of giving Christmas gifts. In some countries gifts are given on Jan. 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates the visit of the Magi. The three wise men each brought a gift, and each was a symbol. Two of these gifts were derived from trees, proving once more how these large plants have played a significant role in the history of man.
One of the gifts presented to Jesus was gold, which honored him as King and symbolized virtue. Another gift was frankincense and acknowledged him as God and symbolized prayer. Frankincense comes from the Boswellia tree, which grows in Arabia and Africa. Incisions are made in the trunk and branches, and the sap exudes as a milk-like juice that hardens when exposed to air. Frankincense was often used in religious ceremonies, and was also used as a medicinal. It is still used in incense, fumigants and perfumes.
The other gift to Christ was myrrh (pronounced “murr”). This is an aromatic yellow/red gum that is obtained from the small, thorny Incense-tree, which grows throughout the Mediterranean. Myrrh is also obtained through bark incisions that exude a fluid that hardens into irregular lumps called tears. In ancient times myrrh was valued as an ingredient in incenses, perfumes, and cosmetics, which continues today. Another use in biblical times was for embalming. The tradition is that the gift of myrrh symbolized that Jesus was to die and his suffering and sacrifice.
Keep in mind as you enjoy the Christmas season how deep into history our traditions go and the far off lands they originated from. May this Christmas bring you joy and peace.