The 5th day of January on the western calendar, the 19th on the orthodox, is known as Three Kings Day or the Epiphany, and in some Christian traditions, it’s as important as Christmas itself. It's also the 12th Day of Christmas and the end of the holiday season.
There's even gift-giving in many Spanish-speaking countries. Kids leave their shoes outside for Santa so he can deposit a few small gifts. The day commemorates the journey of the three Magi, also known as the wisemen or kings, who followed a western star to pay tribute to the new-born king of the Jews, lying in a manger in the town of Bethlehem. It represents the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.
And of course they come bearing three symbolic gifts, gold, representing Christ’s royalty, frankincense, his divinity and myrrh, his mortality.
It’s said the visit of the Magi, as told in the Gospel of Matthew is fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah, Chapter 60:
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
For the last of our 12 days of Christmas, what can we present the new-born king from the wild of Florida that’s as worthy as the gifts of the Magi? Let’s start with gold. That will come from the bounty of Florida’s wild flowers, perhaps our greatest treasure. We are La Florida, after all, land of flowers.
Frankincense and myrrh come from trees in the plant family known as Burceraceae. It just so happens we have one member of the family native to South Florida, the gumbo limbo tree, which itself is full of gifts, and is even seen as divine in some cultures.
Gumbo limbo is easily identified by its red, peeling bark, which is the source of its nickname, the tourist tree (red, peeling skin from too much sun). The irony is the bark (and sap) can ease the pain and help heal sunburned skin and other dermatological ailments (part of the mythology of gumbo limbo surrounds its usefulness in treating poisonwood rashes). Gumbo limbo is used to treat dysentery and yellow fever and heal wounds.
Gumbo limbo isn’t quite as poetic as frankincense and myrrh, and lacks their symbolism, but it's still a worthy gift for a newborn king.
Happy New Year to all.