The origin of giving gifts during Christmas can be attributed to The Wise Men (Magi) that were said to have followed a bright star from the East to Bethlehem where the baby Jesus was born. The Wise Men are sometimes depicted as kings from the East and three of them are regularly featured in nativity scenes in homes and churches all around the world. They brought three gifts for baby Jesus – gold, frankincense and myrrh. Just how many wise men there were is not known. According to scholars, camel caravans usually traveled in groups of 50 or more for safety reasons. Assumptions have been made that because there were three gifts, there were probably three wise men. As to when they arrived is also in dispute. Some religious scholars believe they came when baby Jesus was 2 years old or older because of the amount of time it would have taken to make the journey from their homeland of Persia.
In Germany, the Heilige Drei Knige or the Three Kings Day is the final celebration of Christmas, i.e. the Twelve Days of Christmas from December 25 to January 6. The abbreviation of the names of the three wise men, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar (CMB) are put on the door the night before January 6 to protect the house. In many Spanish-speaking countries, the three wise men are bearers of gifts for children instead of Santa Clause. On January 5, the night before the Three Kings Day or El Dia De Reyes, they set their shoes outside filled with straw and the wise men, on their way to visit the baby Jesus, leave gifts for the children in exchange for the straw. In Mexico, children write letters to the wise men telling which gifts they would like to receive, tie them to a helium balloon, and later release them in Alameda Park, Mexico City. On January 6, children awake finding gifts in their shoes and dreaming they heard camel footsteps in the night and seeing the bright star that guided the wise men.
In Russia, children wait for Baboushka to give them gifts. Baboushka is a woman who supposedly gave the wise men the wrong directions to Bethlehem and wanders around on January 5, the night before the Three Kings Day, looking into houses and leaving gifts to all children trying to find the baby Jesus. In Italy, La Befana passed up the chance to go with the wise men because she had to clean her house. She goes around on the eve of the Three Kings Day, just as in Russia, trying to find baby Jesus.
Giving gifts during holidays is big business these days. Families, office colleagues, schools, teachers and just about anyone who believes in Christmas (and then some) exchange Christmas gifts. The actual tradition of exchanging gifts did not become popular until the early 1900s. Some people have pegged this relatively modern tradition as commercializing Christmas instead of focusing on the actual meaning of the day.
So how do we transform this to make it a reminder of the birth of Jesus Christ?
As you watch the Christmas programs this year, focus on the gifts of the wise men. Gold was a gift fitting for a king. Frankincense was a gift fitting for a priest. Jesus earned the right to be called King of Kings. He is forever our High Priest…a priest is one who bridges the gap between man and God. But what about myrrh? This is the strangest of gifts. It was used to preserve a dead body. This too was a fitting gift. For Jesus came to die for the sins of all mankind.
We have always told our children that Jesus thinks of others so much that He would rather us give gifts to one another on His Birthday; our showing love to those around us is the best birthday present we could give Him. A great verse to share with your children and grandchildren at this time is Acts 20:35 “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Even though we point to the Magi as the ones who started the trend of gift giving, there is One who started before them. God gave the first gift of Christmas, His only Son. 2 Corinthians 9:15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! Do we need to say anything more?