Better Than Gold: What Makes Frankincense and Myrrh Worthy of Holy Gifting

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Since I grew up going to a nondenominational church, Christmastime always had some religious undertones. There was never a Christmas season that lacked a reading about the birth of Christ. I’d heard it so many times that as a child I tended to zone out a little. But there was one mental image that always grabbed my attention—the gifts from the three wise men.

With most stories I cherished as a child, there are particular images still with me, ingrained into my mind. Some are from pictures in the books, and some are from my imagination. Since most Bibles aren’t picture books, I think I am responsible for the image of the gold, frankincense, and myrrh that the three Magi brought to baby Jesus. Maybe it was just me equating these unfamiliar substances with the gold they accompanied, or maybe it was thanks to the theatrical reading of some Sunday school teacher out there somewhere. Somehow I obtained a mental picture of three fellows making a long journey on foot, pushing against harsh winds, their eyes squinting, and their arms cradling vessels filled with glittering, precious jewel-like substances that stood out like comets against the black, empty night.

Truthfully, my idea about these satchels was not so far off. Both frankincense and myrrh are resins that come from specific tree saps. The sap is collected and dried, and what’s left are little gem-like rocks, usually in shades of amber. When packaged with the gold, this Biblical gift set must have looked quite lovely.

As far as I can tell, there’s no direct answer as to why these were the three gifts specifically chosen for such a momentous occasion beyond that at the time, frankincense and myrrh would have been just as valuable, if not more so, than gold. Thus it may have just been a very sophisticated and generous gesture. Other people have speculated that the two resins were gifted for their health benefits. Because, like many natural essential oils, the oils extracted from these resins are said to do more than just give off pleasant scents.

Like what, you ask? Well frankincense—which has a sweet, almost floral smell—is known as an anti-inflammatory, and it’s also used in many beauty products for its benefits to the skin. Frankincense is known to decrease wrinkles and scars, and to get ride of dark circles under the eyes. (Of course, baby Jesus probably wasn’t too worried about wrinkles.)

The frankincense gifted by the Magi could have also been intended for ceremonial purposes. The resin has been used for thousands of years with meditation, in sanctuaries, and in religious ceremonies. It’s mentioned quite a few times in the Bible. In fact, there’s so much to be said about this resin and oil that there are entire books written about its history.

Contrary to frankincense, myrrh has a very earthy, heavy scent that might call to mind dirt or the bark of a tree. Its name means “bitter,” and while its pungent scent may be described as that, it’s still adored and used in all sorts of perfumes and incenses. It’s also used in its own share of skin care products. Myrrh has healing properties, too, as it can treat minor skin ailments and relieve pain from aching muscles.

Myrrh is particularly known for its role as an antiseptic in oral hygiene products. Add a couple of drops of pure, natural myrrh essential oil to your toothpaste before brushing next time for an additional oral hygiene boost. It has its own long history, playing big roles in Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic healing, religious ceremonies, and more. There’s just as much to be learned about myrrh as there is about frankincense, so if you’re curious and want to go deeper into its current and historic uses you should have no trouble finding resources.

Perhaps now you might have some better understanding of why these two humble resins earned a starring role in a seriously famous story. Of course you can find both frankincense and myrrh in many different Possets scents, including one of my favorite Yule Retour scents, Saturn. But I also recommend getting your hands on some essential oils—or even the natural resins—of both of these scents and exploring them in their purest state.

Whether you’ll be reading the story of the Three Wise Men or celebrating the end of December with some other tradition, I hope you all enjoy the rest of your Yule season.

by Katrina Eresman