The first gifts of Christmas were gold, frankincense and myrrh. Precious commodities then, they still make interesting gifts today.
Gold was as important to international trade and economics in biblical times as it is now. Kings Solomon's mines were famed for copper so most gold was imported into Israel. Of course today anyone with a large amount of loose change can gold give a gift of gold which might include jewelry, stocks, or gold coins -- but this is so crass. People with a real taste for gold might savour something more original, perhaps a bottle of goldwasser or goldschlagger. These are clear, sweet liquors from Germany with small flakes of gold shimmering through the liquid. A 750 ml. bottle sells for $27.50 at the S.A.Q.
In biblical times, frankincense was valued as much as gold. It is harvested as a plant resin from a tree which was not common in ancient Israel and became an important trading commodity in the Arabian peninsula. The aroma of frankincense was valued for religious and medical purposes. In Leviticus, the high priest is advised to take a handful of fine flour and oil, together with all the frankincense, and burn this ... (for) a sweet savor unto the Lord.
Its strong aroma was said to ward off evil spirits. Today its essence remains a common ingredient in perfumes and aromatherapists claim it will alleviate nervousness and disappointment. Many stores specializing in alternative therapies sell frankincense as incense sticks or as small chunks of gum resin called frankincense tears.
Myrrh grows as a desert shrub and is common throughout the Middle East. Its gummy resin has been used for over 5000 years for medical needs as diverse as mummification and toothpaste. It is usually sold today as an oil tincture or powder and it is claimed to be effective for cankers, sore throats and gum disease. A small package of powdered myrrh sells for a few dollars in health food stores.