Friday, December 25, 2009

GOLD, FRANKINCENSE, and MYRRH


If you have read the story of when Baby Jesus was born, you will know that there were these three Wise Men who came to visit him.  The reason they were called Wise Men was because when they got lost and couldn't find the Baby Jesus, they actually stopped and asked for directions.  And the reason they got lost was because GPS hadn't been invented yet, so they had to follow a star, which is not as precise as GPS, especially when you are looking for something small, like a baby.

Anyway, when the Wise Men realized they were lost, they asked King Herod for directions, but he turned out not to be a good person to ask because (1) he didn't know where the Baby Jesus was either, and (2) if he had known, he would have gone there and personally killed the baby himself.  So the Wise Men went back to following the star, and finally they found the Baby Jesus, at which point they gave the baby some gifts that they had brought with them all the way from wherever they lived in The East.

There are several interesting things that we could discuss about this story, like for instance, whether it actually happened or not.  But Mom said if I talked about that, I might open a whole can of worms.  I would not want to do that because worms are not very tasty to eat.  If I could open a whole can of tuna, I would do it in an instant, but Mom says that is not an option, even though I know for a fact that she has some cans of tuna in a cabinet in the kitchen.


But anyway, what I am going to talk about is the choice of gifts that the Wise Men brought for the Baby Jesus.  As you may remember, the three gifts were:
1.  Gold
2.  Frankincense
3.  Myrrh

When I look at this list, I start wondering how wise the Wise Men really were, and whether they had ever had any babies of their own.  Well, okay, gold is a pretty good gift because you can buy a lot of practical baby stuff with gold, but frankincense and myrrh are not the kinds of things you see at most baby showers.  Instead, you see stuff like onesies and Pampers and teething rings and soft toys that play lullabies when you wind them up.


I had to do some research to even find out what frankincense and myrrh are, but now that I know, I will tell you about them.  It turns out that frankincense is the sap that comes out of a tree called Boswellia sacra.  Here's a picture of frankincense.  As you can see, it's kind of boring looking.  It's hard to imagine a baby clapping his hands and saying, "Oh goody!  Some pretty frankincense to play with!"





Here's a picture of the tree that frankincense comes from.  This tree grows in places like Arabia and North Africa.  About 5000 years ago, give or take a few months, people discovered that the resin from this tree smells really nice, so they started selling and trading it.  Besides making good incense, frankincense can also be used as an anti-inflammatory, which means that it makes swollen parts of your body be less swollen.




Myrrh is also the dried-up sap of a tree, but it's a different tree than the one that frankincense comes from.  Myrrh mostly comes from Commiphora myrrha, which grows in Yemen, Somalia, and eastern Ethiopia. Here's a picture of myrrh, which you will notice looks kind of like frankincense except it's a redder color.


This is a picture of the tree that myrrh comes from.  Mom actually has a Commiphora tree in her collection of succulent plants, although it's a different kind than the one you get myrrh from.  I asked Mom to take a photo of her plant, but she said it would not look very pretty right now because it has gone to sleep for the winter, and all the leaves fell off.

Anyway, what people used myrrh for was mostly as an ointment for dead bodies so that they wouldn't smell so bad.  And people also burned it as incense and put it in perfume or in wine.  Nowadays myrrh is still used sometimes in stuff like toothpaste or lotion.

So now you know what frankincense and myrrh are.  I guess they were okay gifts because they were expensive and could be used in some important ways.  But I still think a baby would have liked getting something more fun, like a rattle or a maybe a puppy.

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