I'd been trying to come up with a Christmas-gift idea for my sister's newborn son, and then it hit me: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Hey, it was good enough for Jesus, right? The gold I don't need any help with, but the frankincense and myrrh are a bit of a stretch for me, given that I'm an agnostic at best. But my sister has married into the Catholic faith, so this wouldn't just be a gag gift, although it would partly be that. So where do I find some frankincense and myrrh? And while you're at it, what exactly are they again? Spices? Please help.
Wise Guy: Is this what they mean by putting the 'Christ' back in 'Christmas'? Yes, I will help you, my son, guiding you over field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star. But first I want to make sure you understand just how resonant these gifts would be. For hundreds if not thousands of years, they were on the top of everybody's Christmas lists, and this was before there was even a Christmas. Gold we can understand. It's a pretty color, doesn't tarnish and, when I checked this morning, was selling at $635.90 per troy ounce. But frankincense and myrrh? Aren't they just tree sap? Did the baby Jesus, like any excitable child on Christmas morn, toss the frankincense and myrrh over his shoulder and head straight for the bling?
No, because frankincense and myrrh were bling in ancient Judea, not to mention ancient Rome, ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, ancient Wherever. Frankincense, which is cultivated from a tree that only grows in parts of present-day Oman, Yemen and Somalia, was literally worth its weight in gold. And myrrh was worth eight times its weight in gold. Why? Well, they smelled good, for one thing. And let's face it, Moen showerheads weren't a hot-ticket item back in those days. But a little dab of frankincense here, a little dab of myrrh there, and you were good to go. And go and go, because the smell lingered. I've read that when they finally opened up King Tut's tomb, there was a whiff of frankincense in the air ' Old Spice, indeed.
But frankincense and myrrh weren't just fragrances, they were also medicines, perhaps the first medicines. Gold was also a medicine, believe it or not, and although I'm not sure what its medicinal properties were, feel free to drape some around my neck the next time I feel a cold coming on. As for the other two, they've been used to treat everything from bad breath to leprosy. (So if you're too embarrassed to tell a leper he's got bad breath, just say it's for the leprosy.) And it's those medicinal properties that the Three Wise Men may have been interested in. They were essentially bestowing an HMO upon the uninsured Christ child. Today, they would give him a CAT scan, an MRI and a coupon for 10 free botox injections.
Frankincense and myrrh are still used in various parts of the world, including ours. Aromatherapists and other natural healers use them. They're used in religious rites. In fact, I think Catholics use them in their masses sometimes, but my crack research team may be on crack, so it'd be nice if a Catholic priest verified that for me. Where to acquire frankincense and myrrh? Well, all over the place. I'm reluctant to specify places because it might endanger future kickbacks from places I don't mention, but look for stores where creams and lotions, candles and incense sticks ' or herbal remedies ' are sold. And tell them Mr. Right sent you, in case they want to go ahead and send a kickback. I'll accept silver, but I prefer something that doesn't tarnish.
To worship my golden calves, write to: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR E-MAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.