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Last week, I sat down with my daughter to have a heart-to-heart about Christmas. She’s nine now, and it was time to break the news. “Did you know, kid, that Christmas is actually about Jesus?” From the blank look on her face, I could tell she didn’t. “The reason people celebrate Christmas is because it’s supposed to be a celebration of Jesus’ birthday.”

“Really?” she said, “It’s not about the presents?”

“Well, they call it Christmas, after Jesus Christ.”

A fire came into her eyes. “I think we should just call it Presentmas, then.”

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The conventional telling of the Christmas story reports that three “Wise Men,” “kings from the East,” or three Magi ignited the custom of gift giving by bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Baby Jesus on Epiphany (12 days after Christmas). Most likely these three travelers were not kings at all, but rather, Persian Zoroastrian priests or missionaries. They were also astronomers (not astrologers) and had been following a kind of cosmic event, often referred to as the “Star of Bethlehem.”

Let’s investigate the symbolic significance of the gifts they brought:

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