In recent years I’ve prepared a core Christmas gift for a fairly large number of students, house guests, nieces and nephews. Last year it was copal (the precursor to amber) and the previous year it was fragments of a meteorite. This year, I decided upon the original Christmas gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Although the names of frankincense and myrrh have been familiar to me from childhood, I had never felt the soft textures of frankincense or myrrh, nor savored their distinctive aromas. Here’s the introduction to my accompanying handout:
At this time of year we celebrate the magi who, following a star, came from far away to offer their gifts to the Christ child. Everything about this story is enigmatic:
- who were the magi?
- what was the star?
- how did it lead them to Judea?
Perhaps we might think: If only Matthew had told us more!
Even the gifts themselves seem mysterious. Gold is familiar enough, though we may have little experience of it. But frankincense and myrrh are tantalizing and exotic. Although their names roll off the tongues of poets and carolers, most of us have little actual idea of their soft textures, distinctive aromas, and ancient uses.
Everything about this story is enigmatic, that is, except the main point – God is drawing us all to himself – and this is itself the greatest mystery. In this brief Christmas letter, we invite you to wonder again with us upon each of these mysteries.
Download and read the 10-page handout here:
Logistics: Want to give the original Christmas gifts yourself? Here’s how we did it: High-quality frankincense and myrrh, harvested in Arabia, can be obtained from Catholic Supply in the beautiful magi chests shown at the top of this post. We ordered three replacement pouches as well, which served as gifts for a total of about 50 people. These three magi chests are an intriguing addition to our home’s Christmas decorations. They quickly engage the attention of any visitor. We invite house guests to choose a specimen from each of the three chests. Small plastic bags are kept near the chests, in which visitors may place their specimens for safekeeping. At times, we provided small cardboard boxes as well, which guests could personalize using a gold pen and star stencil. The small plastic jewelry bags and jewelry-sized cardboard boxes we obtained from Hobby Lobby.
What about the gold? In contrast to the chests for frankincense and myrrh, which contain specimens, the magi chest for gold from Catholic Supply contains a beautiful glass globe that, when held up, disperses the light as it reflects off of gold leaf fragments floating within. But in the chest, underneath the golden globe, there is room to place gold specimens – for these, we ordered small gold-plated star-shaped beads from Amazon.
We plan to restock the magi chests every year!
- Christmas Reflections – the magi
- Epiphany family activities
- Stars over Ancient Babylon (who were the magi?)
- Advent Celebration (the meaning of the magi)