Most of us grew up singing “The 12 Days of Christmas.” The archaic gifts in the story played with our childish imaginations, but most of us probably had only a vague idea of it’s meaning. Although the song is English (or perhaps French) in origin, the song’s rich gifting harks back to the first Christmas gifts given to the infant Jesus.
Epiphany, celebrated on January 6 (or 19 January on some calenders), is the feast day when Christians celebrate the end of the twelve days following Christmas and the coming of the Magi to worship the baby Jesus. In some countries, children receive their Christmas gifts on the evening of January 5 in celebration of the gifts of the Magi.
The Bible says Magi (or Wise Men) from the East came bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Although there are many theories about the meanings associated with the gifts, all three are fairly common gifts to give a king. Gold was one of the highest valuables one could give, frankincense was often used as a perfume, and myrrh was used as an anointing oil. Additionally, the three gifts held spiritual meaning: gold symbolized kingship, frankincense, priesthood and myrrh, death. All three were traded for thousands of years in the Middle East and Northern Africa.
Epiphany reminds us of several gifts and several journeys. Not only do we remember the gifts of the Magi, but we remember that Jesus came as a gift to people. Epiphany means “appearing.” Christians believe that God appeared to humans in a human form, as a gift of peace with God. Likewise, we are reminded that the journey of peaceful giving is now passed on to us. “The 12 Days of Christmas” sings of many elaborate gifts. The Magi brought gifts fit for a king. As we journey through many cultures and experiences, may we find creativity to give as extravagantly, especially of the gifts of peace and goodwill to all people.