We are so close to Christmas! It’s only a few days away! While some of us are still scurrying around trying to purchase and wrap last minute gifts, some of us have planned and prepared months in advance. Christmas can be a very commercial kind of holiday, but, at its root, Christmas is supposed to be a spiritual and family-centered holiday. It’s a time to celebrate the birth of Christ, a promise fulfilled from God to humankind. Feasts, music, and gifts usually fill our evenings this time of year in celebration of this.
What tends to get lost in this all is the point of the gift giving. It seems to have gotten out of control over the years. Quantity has outweighed quality and meaning for years. So, where did this gift giving come from anyway? What does one of the holiest Catholic holidays have to do with shopping until we’re broke and wrapping paper and copious amount of presents Christmas morning? While the origins of many Christmas traditions, such as wreaths, Christmas trees, feasting, and candlelight stem from some pagan traditions, gift giving doesn’t seem to fit.
For a long time, many Catholics refused to participate in Christmas gift-giving due to the holiday’s pagan roots. Christmas gift giving didn’t begin until the 1840’s. Christmas cards were exchanged with family and friends, along with wine, fruits and nuts, and candles. Christmas gifts have evolved over the decades from handmade wooden toys and crafts, to dolls and yo-yo’s, to action figures and electronics. Christmas gifts have evolved from heart-felt and sincere to commercialized and greedy, all thanks to advertising and toy companies. The image of Saint Nicholas, a follower of Jesus, has even been transformed from the Christian priest who brought homemade toys to children in his parish to the magical toymaker with eight reindeer that Coca-Cola has made today. The popular animated movie Polar Express depicts the first gift of Christmas as a gift that Santa Claus gives out on Christmas Eve, before his flight around the world, to a child who has proven him/herself as worthy.
However, the first gifts of Christmas date much older than Santa Claus himself. Some argue that the first gift of Christmas was the birth of God’s only human son. While the birth of Jesus is what makes Christmas so important, I believe that the original gifts of Christmas were the gifts brought by the three wise Kings, or Maji. While the Bible does not name the three Kings specifically, historians feel confident that they are Balthazar, the king of Arabia, Caspar/Gaspar/Jaspar, the king of India, and MelChoir, the king of Persia. Upon news of the birth of the savior that would fulfill a prophecy, King Herod was fearful of his throne. So, he summoned the kings of Persia, India, and Arabia to find the young savior and report back to him. The three kings did find baby Jesus by following the “Christmas Star” but were warned in a dream not to return to King Herod. After the kings saw the baby with Mary, they were overwhelmed with joy and presented him with items that were common but valuable to their own kingdoms-gold from Arabia a gift given to kings, myrrh a gift from India given to a mortal, and frankincense a gift from Persia given to a god.
So, I’ll leave you with this Christmas poem I found recently.
Three Wise Men
by Bill Simmons, 2006
He was born in a barn in the still of the night
One star shining ever so bright
No crib for his bed, straw lay his head
Three wise men they saw the light
Born into the world
The love of every boy and girl
Every woman and every man
Would know love from the touch of his hand
Three wise men
Carrying gifts from so afar
Came with their love as they saw above
And followed that night that star
When they saw this child
And in his dreams his first smile
They knew that night beneath holy light
A King was born that night
When they saw his face
They knew the world a different place
From the heavens a child was born
And would forever walk in his grace
Asleep in a manger in the calm of the night
Born into the world beneath holy light
A King of Kings was born
In the calm of a clear still night.
From my family to yours, I wish you all a peaceful and joyous Christmas season. May it be filled with happiness and reasons to celebrate. Sing carols, open gifts, count your blessings, toast to the season, and love all those who surround you. Cheers!