The gift of the Magi

Ed Smith
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I see we're still in the same old debate.

Happy Holidays versus Merry Christmas versus Season's Greetings and all that good stuff. It isn't that old, really, but old enough that I'm tired of it.

It's not that I don't care anymore, either. I'm just sick of debating it. If the world doesn't have the message by now, to hell with the world. I myself won't send out cards to my friends - Christian, nominally Christian or don't-give-a-darn-one-way-or-the-other Christian - that don't have "Merry Christmas" on them. But that's just me.

If I were sending cards to my Jewish friends, I'd wish them Happy Hanukkah. If I had any Muslim friends, I'd wish them Happy Ramadan.

If I had any friends in the federal Liberal Party of Canada, I'd say, "For Pete's sake, people, suck it up, show us some guts and some strategy and get to work on taking down Harper and company."

If I had any friends in the federal Conservative party ... right, that's like saying if I had 150 asses I'd start a donkey farm or another Tory caucus.

Now that we're on a Christmas theme, more or less, and that happy season is pretty much upon us, I've been thinking a little about the Magi. Why? I don't know. Seems like an appropriate thing to do.

The Magi, as you probably know, refer in our modern world to the wise men who brought gifts to the child Jesus in the manger. Why didn't I say three wise men? Because nowhere in the gospel narrative is there a number given to them. Might've been three. Might've been two or six.

Magi in the ancient world was the name given to astrologers who studied the stars and were regarded as being especially wise. Indeed, that's what they said, "We have seen his star in the East and are come to worship him."

The Maya of six or seven hundred years ago likewise studied the stars from a scientific perspective, and thus were exceedingly knowledgeable. I don't know if that's the same thing as being extremely wise. I'm quite prepared to concede their mathematical brilliance, but I'm trusting they don't have the wisdom of Solomon, because they have it all roaring down about our ears and most other parts of our anatomy on Dec. 21, 2012.

You might want to read my New Year's column on that topic. Or not.

Valuable presents

Anyway, the Magi of the Bible were known as the wise men also because they gave the perfect gifts to the child. Consider: gold was worth its weight in ... you know. Frankincense, as its name implies, was valued for its aroma, especially in incense. It was called frankincense because it was the Franks who first brought it from the East. Myrrh, likewise, was used in incense and candlemaking.

My first experience with myrrh wasn't altogether pleasant. Like those other incenses, it came from the bark of certain trees, in our case, the fir.

The first time I wore my brand-new Eaton's parka in the woods setting rabbit snares, I managed to make contact with several firs and their plump little myrrh-filled bladders. Once on, that stuff never comes off and it attracts dirt the way honey attracts Pooh.

I remember it to this day. If my dear mother were still alive, so would she. It was, after all, a Christmas present, and in those days of really scarce resources, it was a really valuable Christmas present. I went and ruined it.

So, now here we are trying to find really nice gifts for the important people in our lives. There are two problems with that. The first is trying to outdo what we did last year, which was an attempt to improve on what we had done the year before, which had to be better than the year before that.

Let's see, now. Three years ago, I gave her a stereo which, when turned up to half volume, could be heard in South Brook. Last year, I gave her a small car. This year, it's either a Lamborghini or a Rolls-Royce Silver Phantom.

Next year, I'll have to negotiate for her own Marine Atlantic ferry.

The second is keeping up with all her friends. All daughter's friends have $100,000 gift certificates to Gap. I'll have to get her a $200,000 gift certificate to - Secret. All son's friends have top-of-the-line snowmobiles.

We'll get him two, and a quad just to keep him ahead. So what if he's only 10 years old. We can trade them in when he gets old enough to drive them.

Some small exaggerations in the foregoing examples, but the basic truth is still there, don't you think?

The gifts of the Magi were valuable, but also extremely practical in those days, same as my new Eaton's parka was in my day.

Perhaps the wise men could afford to go overboard. Weren't they also supposed to be kings? Most of us are not that well off. Our wisdom would be staying within the bounds of what we can afford so that we're not paying for it, possibly in more ways than one, for the next 12 months.

Perfect selection

O Henry's beautiful story, "The Gift of the Magi," actually states the opposite of what I just said. In it, two very poor young people each sacrifice their most precious possessions in order to give the other the perfect Christmas present. The writer calls them foolish, but in the end he admits that their love for each other was so great they were willing to sacrifice everything. That, he says, is the ultimate in sacrificial love.

O Henry, to the contrary, I think the greatest gift we give each other is in sacrificing ourselves by putting those whom we love first in our lives, and expecting nothing in return. That's probably the most difficult gift of all to give, but surely it is also the most valuable and the wisest.

Rather difficult to get into a stocking, though.

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His email address is


Organizations: Liberal Party of Canada, Eaton's, Rolls-Royce Silver Phantom Marine Atlantic

Geographic location: South Brook, Springdale

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