So, what are frankincense and myrrh, anyway? The adults’ default answer, of course, is that they are gifts of the Magi and that’s all you need to know, kid.
Another answer is that they are a small part of a bigger story regarding the Nativity scene, or crèche, the origin of which is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi and hearkens back to the good old days of the 13th century. Then, as now, St. Francis was worried about the meaning of the Christmas holiday being overshadowed by consumerism. No kidding.
The first Nativity scenes were also known as pantomimes, because they involved the use of real people and animals. This form of the tradition is still celebrated, but the use of a diorama is now much more commonplace. Dioramas, a fancy word that refers to staged scenes, became popular in the 19th century, although precursors existed long before that time.
It’s no secret that Nativity scenes have suffered their share of controversy, but this is also nothing new. The Puritans moved to ban them in England as early as the 17th century, and the U.S. courts have had a joyous time attempting to appease secularists while still respecting freedom of speech and the spiritual roots of the country for the last 50 years.
Nowadays the U.S. observes “The Reindeer Rule” on public lands, which stipulates that Nativity scenes may be erected as long as other religious symbols are not restricted in the same space. It’s an arguably noble effort to give everyone in the American melting pot a fair shake during the holidays, which is by its nature a complicated matter.
The important thing, however, is that the Nativity tradition endures. Tradition, in all of its many forms, is a thing worth celebrating and it shouldn’t be too much to hope that St. Francis would see the progression of the Nativity’s history as a positive thing in that it is still enjoyed and respected the world over.
That said, he may be disappointed to find that fewer people know the origin of the wise men’s gifts. Frankincense and myrrh are both resins derived from tree sap that were used for medicinal purposes, or burned to release their aromatic fragrances.
<a href="http://www.atgstores.com/" target="_blank">ATGStores.com</a> hopes all of you have a wonderful holiday season filled with the warm feelings that your traditions bring.