Thinking about the meaning of the Three Kings gifts my memory starts traveling back to growing up in Colombia. I remember January 6 as a Día de Reyes, not because we celebrated it in my family but because many other families celebrated and I could live vicariously through them.
My mom had a special feeling about Christmas celebrations, let me explain. She loved Christmas and we decorated the house mainly with lights on the windows, a small nativity and a tiny Christmas tree. Not a huge celebration like it was for other families, and I think it all stemmed from her growing up as an “orphan” at her grandmas home.
My father closely followed my mother’s ideas of how a Christmas should be. Interestingly enough, baby Jesus brought great presents and remained displayed the entire month of December while the Three Kings were practically packed away by December the 31sr.
My sister and I never received a present from the three wise men, although we very well knew who they were and their importance in recognizing baby Jesus as a king of a different kind. We also attended Catholic school and religious education was part of our weekly life therefore, this important trio was a very well known one to my sister and I.
I have always been puzzled by the Reyes Magos offerings, and after I moved to the U.S., I started researching who these three important figures were and the reasons for their gifts. I loved what I found, and how they played a significant role in solidifying the true meaning of the birth of “el niño Dios.”
The Magi Appear
The passage in Mathew tells the story of a night in which the star of Bethlehem guided Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar to baby Jesus’ birthplace. The star was a sign for the wise men to follow and arrive promptly with their offerings to baby Jesus.
In route, the Three Kings stopped to ask Herod if he knew the birthplace of Jesus, to which Herod responded he didn’t know and asked them if they find out to let him know. The Three kings had no idea of Herod’s intentions, and while continuing their journey an angel of God appeared warning them about Herod’s purpose: To assassinate baby Jesus.
Following the advice of the angel, the Three Wise Men took a different route to reach baby Jesus’ birthplace where they arrived bringing frankincense, myrrh and gold.
The bible doesn’t explain the meanings of these gifts but over time we have understood that frankincense is a symbol of holiness, myrrh is associated with suffering and gold is a symbol of kingship.
To obtain frankincense we make incisions in the bark of a tree to let it “bleed” its fragrant resin. For many years Frankincense has been the choice of burning at many churches.
Myrrh is also a product of Arabia like frankincense, and it is a spice used for embalming, making incense, perfume and medicine to reduce pain and swelling.
Myrrh also appears several times throughout the life of Jesus. When He was dying on the cross a person offered him vinegar mixed with myrrh, Jesus rejected the drink. Also, when Jesus was dead myrrh was an important element Nicodemus used for anointing Jesus’ body.
Gold is a proper gift for a king. Gold is a very precious metal even until today and it can very well signify Jesus’ kingship.
As per Frankincense and myrrh researchers at Cardiff University think the gifts could have had a practical meaning because of frankincense’s medicinal properties and myrrh’s usage as anointing oil. Who knows? The bible doesn’t mention a specific reason for the gifts.
When somebody asks me why did baby Jesus receive these three gifts I mention practical and symbolic reasons, and I let them know that for sure we can’t pinpoint the exact reasons, although they make total sense to me. Happy Three Kings Day!