• Karen Pennington

How to Spend the Gifts of the Magi

I sure do love a good Christmas carol. But let's be honest: not all Christmas carols are created equal. Of all the good, the bad and the ugly of Christmas carols, nothing leave me scratching my head more than the song "The 12 Days of Christmas." That period of 12 days mentioned in the song marks the religious observance in the western church calendar between Christmas Day and a much less celebrated holiday called Epiphany on January 6. But the gifts mentioned in the song are just awful! I would hope that no love of mine would spend what now could cost as much as $180,000 by modern pricing on these ridiculous, exotic gifts:


12 drummers drumming (Who wants a personal marching band?)

11 pipers piping (Not my style of music. I'll just turn on my playlist)

10 lords a leaping (A ballet of nobles in my front yard? That's just weird!)

9 ladies dancing (This is no less weird than the leaping dudes.)

8 maids a milking (I'd rather just go to the supermarket for milk.)

7 swans a swimming (The thought of it is pretty, but they wouldn't fit in my tub, and birds are messy.)

6 geese a laying (I've never had a goose egg, but chicken eggs suit me just fine.)

5 GOLDEN RINGS! (OK, I would totally take this gift!)

4 calling birds (no more appealing than the geese, and my house is small.)

3 french hens (I would probably give them to one of my farmer friends.)

2 turtle doves (I don't even know what those are. Are they different from other doves, and why would I need a set?)

A partridge in a pear tree (I'll take the pears; you can keep the bird.)


Perhaps there are some bird lovers or arts enthusiasts out there with much bigger homes who would love some of these gifts. But I personally would rather use the $180,000 to go on vacation, pay off debt, or perhaps buy a bigger house. I searched for historical, symbolic meaning for theses gifts, and my best sources tell me that there is none. It was just used as a memory game around the holidays.


Today happens to be the end of the real 12 days of Christmas, January 6. Epiphany, or "Day of the Kings" as some cultures refer to it, reflects on the visit on the Persian priest/rulers (called magi) who sought out the King of the Jews and presented baby Jesus with three far better gifts than a personal marching band: gold, frankincense and myrrh. There has been some speculation in religious circles as to what these gifts might symbolize: perhaps gold for a king, incense for a God and myrrh as a fine burial spice that foreshadows the ultimate gift that Jesus Christ would one day give for us all. But on a more practical note, let's remember that Joseph was a humble carpenter who within hours of receiving the gifts would be called to flee to Egypt for as many as three and a half years (he hadn't packed for that journey when he went to Bethlehem) and then permanently relocate to a town in a totally different region from his home. Those magi gifts probably helped fund the journey and provide for their needs through the tough times.

We often reflect on the hope that comes as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. But perhaps hope does not quite mean what many of us think it does. Both the original Hebrew and Greek word for hope used the Old and New Testaments are the exact same word as wait. Specifically it means to wait expectantly for something that we know will happen. This kind of waiting also infers a certain level of action, a spiritual house cleaning as if excitedly preparing for an honored guest. And who's better than Jesus?

True hope is about so much more than wishful thinking. It doesn't mean we won't have hard times, but it can sure help get us through them. It gives us something to live and work for beyond the fleeting problems of this moment, this feeling, this current situation and sometimes even this life. In reflecting on the gifts of the magi and how they may have helped during Jesus' earliest years, I am reminded that through Christ we also have hope in a God who will give us exactly what we need to sustain us during the trials as we prepare for those glory moments on earth and our eternal reward in Heaven.

Click here to order a copy of Karen's book, An Anointed Mess: Discovering the Daily Adventure of Grace.

Click here For more reading on the history of "The 12 Days of Christmas" carol.

Click here to read about the significance of the real 12 days of Christmas celebration in the church calendar

Click here to read about the visit of the magi/kings/wisemen and the escape to Egypt in Matthew 2.


Photo by jackmac34 on Pixabay.



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