Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The First Christmas Present

We've just held our annual Open Day and in honour of the festive season, we produced little bags of "gold" (a gold chocolate coin), frankincense and myrrh. I wrote a short explanation for children - generally in my experience a lot more perceptive than most adults - of The First Christmas Present.

The First Christmas Present

The New Testament tells us that three kings guided by a bright star came to visit the new born baby Jesus in the stable where the story tells us he was born. Each King brought a gift: one brought gold, another frankincense and the third myrrh.

Gold represents Kingship and because the Kings with gifts were giving Jesus respect he became known as the King of Kings. Unlike other metals gold doesn’t rust so it also represents something that is eternal and doesn’t change.
The word perfume comes from the Latin per fumen, which means through smoke. This gives us a clue as to the earliest use of perfume – incense. In the ancient world people started making offerings to their gods. It had to be something valuable otherwise it wouldn’t be much of an offering would it?

Frankincense was very valuable and the little nugget in the bag is called a tear and a long time ago tears like this one were used as money. By putting frankincense tears on hot charcoal they would transform into smoke and slowly vanish leaving behind some of their smell. The ancients believed that it had vanished from this world and gone to another world, which they couldn’t see but where God lived.

For some grownups this started an argument which has gone on for centuries about the imminent and transcendent aspects of God in relation to transubstantiation symbolism. The important thing about the story, even if we can’t say such a long word let alone argue about it, is that frankincense was used to communicate with God so it represents spirituality.

Myrrh is quite an easy one. It was used for medicine and embalming and it is sometimes called bitter so it represents suffering. We can only wonder what the world would be like today if the three Kings had all brought the same present.

Elf and Safety Notice
Please keep the contents of this bag away from babies.


  1. Beautifully presented and beautifully written. Frankincence and Myrrh are two of my favourite oils.
    Linda Lucy, Auckland New Zealand.

    (posted on behalf of Linda)

  2. very nice..i always read and appreciate your posts. going on the subject, sometimes i tried to think at an accord with the 3 materials, but is always hard to give the "gold" olfactory "substitution"..hesperidate notes could be, but maybe too far top-base...any different suggestion as a middle gold note?
    ciao from Roberto

  3. Hello Linda ( I was born in Taumaranui ) I agree with you about oils. I was lucky to get an enormous bag of silver incense last year but I hate the smokiness of the charcoal .I find Holly, Ivy and Misletoe very spiritual too. I wonder if they can all be used in perfumery ?

  4. Roberto, thank you for your kind comments.
    You touch something at the heart of the natural and synthetic debate/conflict.
    The mainstream commercial industry doesn't fully acknowledge this schism. The reason is that they continue to use the language of naturals to describe completely synthetic fragrances. I cannot think of any other industry where such a practice would be legal. As we know a synthetic jasmine or rose cannot replicate the complexity, depth and subtlety of the natural concretes or absolutes. However, synthetic versions which are an insult when compared with their natural namesakes are described as if naturals were present.
    This culture allows a laxity of precision, which finds no conflict in describing smells that don't exist in natural form as if they did. Bluebell and lily of the valley are two examples that come to mind.
    So that introduces a thorny problem - how to represent something in a fragrance that doesn’t have an aroma? In this instance gold is the substance in question. I think we need to afford the imagination some latitude.
    Your suggestion of citrus notes is probably the same route I would have chosen. Orange blossom absolute has a little too much fat and many other citrus notes are too delicate and fleeting. Small amounts of lime will add a bit of gloss and sparkle a little like a coat of varnish but only if kept below the level of conscious perception. Galbanum has metallic notes and these could combine nicely with lime to be vaguely suggestive of gold.
    Best Wishes,

  5. Ciao Alec,
    thank you for your advice and hint...
    contributing to the debate, i think that the truth is "almost" in the middle..the use in perfumery of synthetics just as a final touch, an underlining, an more...otherwise, it is always lost the deepness, the complexity, the "structure" of a fragrance....
    Best Wishes