Each year around this time, a friend or family member asks me to tell her again about our three-gifts-per-child tradition at Christmas. Usually it happens when someone’s kids are old enough to be infected by a nasty case of the gimmies (gimme, gimme, give me more!), which means it’s as good a time as any to start reining in the traditional American spend-way-more-than-we-have-on-stuff-we’ll-never-use-or-don’t-really-need Christmas.
My oldest was the first grandchild on both sides, which meant for an over-abundance of presents those first two years when she was also the only grandchild and niece. After my second child was born, I realized this whole Christmas thing was quickly getting out of hand. That’s when it occurred to me: if Jesus supposedly received three gifts — and it’s His birthday! — why do my kids need more?
Looking for inspiration, I did a little research into the whole gold, frankincense, and myrrh tradition. Theologians and historians have many theories as to the significance of each gift, but the one concept they agree on is this: these gifts were very much intentional. God doesn’t make mistakes, and we can rest assured that if they were included in the Bible, it was for a good reason. I guess this means the wise men spent quality time determining what gifts would best benefit the Christ child and also glorify God in the process.
Here’s what that looks like to me: they didn’t run out at the last minute (a.k.a. Christmas eve, and yes I have done this before), they didn’t simply walk down the discount aisle of their local Target (or whatever they had back then) and fill the cart with anything they thought Jesus might like. They didn’t re-gift something yucky from last Christmas. (Ouch) And they most certainly didn’t buy a present just to make the pile bigger or even out the “dollars spent” per child. Really? Ugh.
So what did those kings-from-afar bring?
Well, one of them gave a gift of gold. We all know what that is, but it’s worth noting that many scholars consider this gold to symbolize our salvation. This means it’s not only the most important gift we could ever receive, but it’s also one that cannot be taken away… When we give Christmas presents to our kids, this is the gift that represents something of great value. (Note that doesn’t really have to mean it cost a lot, but rather that it is super important to the recipient.)
Next, Jesus received frankincense, which was often burned during worship. It typically represents purity, holiness, and devotion. For us, this gift represents something that brings us closer to God, or closer together as a family. (A few examples might be: a game, a book, a special activity or trip.)
Finally, one king gave Jesus some myrrh. The Biblical reasoning behind this gift likely has to do with the word’s meaning — bitterness — and its use during the embalming of the dead. So why was it given to Jesus? Many scholars believe it foreshadows Christ’s death. In addition, it symbolized the trials and persecutions he endured here on earth, for our benefit. While that is beautiful, from a scriptural sense, it doesn’t make for a super great Christmas gift idea… So, we decided to focus on myrrh’s use as a perfume, instead. This gift is something personal (such as clothes, perfume, earrings, a day at the spa ;-)), that makes the recipient feel better about herself.
This year marks our tenth three-gift-Christmas, and I do not believe we’ve deprived our kids in any way. They’ve received gifts that were better planned and way more thoughtful than they might have been if I had simply thrown stuff in the cart to make their piles bigger (as I did that first Christmas we had two kids). And while I thought only giving three gifts would make Christmas easier, I can’t say that’s exactly the case. It’s hard to only give them three gifts! I love my kids and could easily shower them with presents, but I know that is counter-productive. So each year we labor over what to give, and each year we — thankfully — usually end up with gracious smiles.
And because everyone always asks… Yes, we still do stockings, and those don’t count toward the three gifts. I usually put a few small gifts in their stockings like candy, toothbrushes, (cause you can’t give the first without also giving the second, right?) and maybe a bottle of nail polish or some hair accessories. When they were little, these were the Santa gifts, while the three gifts under the tree were always from us.
Three Gift Christmas Tradition Printable: Now that my kids are old enough, I’m involving them more in the process. I created a quick Christmas list template, to help them focus their gift ideas into three categories: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This helps them really consider each gift the way my husband and I did when they were younger. Just in case anyone else wants to try this, I’ve included a link. Click the image to the left, then right-click the larger image to save it to your computer. (It prints two-per-page)