Christmas Customs: The Three Wise Men
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For Christians celebrating Christmas customs, one of the central ones is the story of the Three Wise Men. Our Bible states that three wise men approached King Herod the Great in search of the new King of the Jews. It then goes on to say that the Wise Men presented the young child, Jesus, with three gifts - gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Wise Men followed a spectacular star which to them, heralded the coming of a king.
While the precise date of Jesus birth is not known, it is well established that it was during the latter part of King Herod the Great, a wily and bloodthirsty king ruling under the aegis of the Romans. When the Wise Men, approached the king asking the whereabouts of the King of the Jews, Herod could not help them, but urged them to come back when they found him so he could worship him too. These travellers might have been kings in their own right. Certainly they were wealthy and of high status or they would not have been given an audience with Herod.
Fortunately for Christians, the Wise Men did not return to Herod to tell him of the whereabouts of the baby Jesus. They presented their gifts to the young child in a house and returned to their countries. While we don't know the names of the Wise Men we have come to accept that they were King Melchior of Arabia who gave gold. King Gaspar of Tarsus who gave myrrh and King Bathasar of Ethiopia who gave frankincense. Other religions in the area have maintained that there were as many as twelve Wise Men. For these men to have travelled a great distance they would have had an entourage and probably been guarded given the very valuable gifts they were bringing.
The gifts presented to the young Jesus were valuable and symbolic. Gold represents wealth and purity. Myrrh was used in medicines and perfumes as well as preparing the dead for burial. Frankincense was burned to form a sacred incense.
The Christian Bible states that King Herod was so determined that there be no threat to his throne from a King of the Jews that when the Wise Men did not return to him, he issued orders to kill all male babies up to the age of two in his kingdom. Mary, Joseph and Jesus escaped to stay in Egypt until King Herod the Great died. No doubt the gift of gold from King Melchior helped in the escape.
It could well be that the custom of exchanging gifts at Christmas was started with the gifts from the Wise Men.