The Gift of the Magi – In short supply

We three kings of Orient are/bearing gifts we traverse afar

So goes the lyrics of one of my all time favorite holiday songs. I belted it out with gusto during Midnight Mass through most of my formative years.

As the story goes, the Three Wise Men brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh on that first Christmas, thus paving the way for BlueRay players and gift cards and a Red Ryder BB gun.

I always thought gold was the good gift in that stack. Who knows what all that other stuff was? Wasn’t a gift of frankincense and myrrh like getting a fruitcake and an ugly sweater?

Yesterday, I read with interest an article in USA Today discussing how the Boswellia tree, a scraggly tree found mostly in Ethiopia, is facing quite a sharp decline. Like 7% of trees dying off per year and new saplings not maturing into full trees.

Frankincense is the dried sap from a Boswellia tree. Cuts are made into the trunk of the tree (called stripping) and then sap flows to heal the wound. When that sap hardens (called, appropriately enough, tears), the dried frankincense is harvested from the tree and it can be burned or oils extracted for perfume.

The trees are threatened for a couple of reasons, one is that the Ethiopian government has pushed people to relocate from the highlands to the lowlands where the tree is prevalent. This puts pressure on the ecosystem. The highlanders brought cattle with them, and the cows eat saplings. Also, the grasslands are burned to make it easier to get to the trees to collect the frankincense, but that also kills saplings.

In addition, the process of cutting into the trees leaves them vulnerable to attack by longhorn beetles.

Researchers are still trying to understand if climate change is also a concern.

In all, quite a fascinating bit of understanding about that gift from the first Christmas that I’ve so often sung about but not well understood.

Of course, as I read the article I thought “I betcha these trees would grow in New Mexico.” Well sure enough, there is a man in Arizona who is growing and selling Boswellia trees and they seem to do well in Southern California, Florida and parts of Arizona.

It’s too cold here in the Bay Area, but if I was back in New Mexico, I’d totally want to see if I could grow a Boswellia tree.

The Boswellia tree

Cuts are make into the trunk of the Boswellia tree to encourage the flow of resin

Hardened frankincense, also called tears

All images from LookLex Encyclopaedia.

This week’s Theme Thursday is (appropriately enough): gift

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  • Nadine in Nevada

    Very interesting. I had no idea where Frankincense came from. My guess is if the tree won’t grow in the Bay Area it wouldn’t stand a chance in the high desert of Nevada.

    • Karen Fayeth

      Hi Nadine – probably too damp here in No Cal. Too cold there in No. Nevada. I saw you posted that it is 7 degrees there this morning? Brrr!!!!

  • Ruth

    An interesting article, Karen – informative. I love the look of the tree, and those hardened frankincense ‘tears’.

  • Kris

    I beg your forgiveness for my cutting and pasting my comment, but there was no way on Earth I would be able to make it around the whole globe to wish everybody a Merry Christmas otherwise.

    The magical elves that constitute my staff have demonstrated their lack of respect in either not showing up for work at all, or those that have all seem a little worse for wear (if you catch my drift). All they seem to do is sit around smoking cigarettes that, frankly, smell funny. In addition, they play cards and tell dirty jokes rather than do their jobs! Consequently, the reindeer are all filthy and out of shape.

    I now have my two sons pulling the sleigh, but they are struggling. I’ve been told that it’s a big ask for a three and five year old, but I made it this far with a couple of mangy chooks, an arthritic wallaby and three peculiar wombats! Unfortunately, we lost all bar one wombat over Pittsburgh (and the sole survivor is exhibiting clear signs of PTSD).

    Anyway, all the way down here at the bottom of the world (A.K.A. Tasmania), and from myself, Jen, Henry and Ezra, please have a Merry Christmas/Winter Solstice/Hanukkah/Festivus/Ashura and a happy New Year!

    I hope that all of your holiday photos turn out to be triumphs, your stocking is stuffed full of lots of tasty treats and not coal and that all your pumpkin pies/ prawn cocktails/ currywurst are all as tasty as can be!

    • Karen Fayeth

      Kris – Merry Christmas to my favorite Tazmanian. May your children sleep well after pulling at the bit all day.

      (By the way, my spam catcher sent me an urgent alert to moderate your comment. Apparently you blew its little sensors. I like that about you!!!!)

  • brian miller

    oh wow. i would totally want to see one too…very cool and interesting on them as well…sad that they are dying off like that too…hopefully an alternate climate will help….

  • Andy Lang

    Living in the ” Great White North “, I guess I am kinda outta the loop as far as growing one of those trees is concerned. Great blog Karen! You da bestest, uh huh. :)

  • Mrsupole

    Well I guess I could grow one of those trees down here but it looks like it would take up a lot of space. Although if I was saving a tree from extinction then that would make the decision for me. I love how you give us so much information because I too had no idea about the other two gifts. Now gold I do know a little about. That does make a great gift.

    Thanks again for playing in this weeks Theme Thursday. Love the info you provided. See you next week.

    Wishing you a Merry Christmas.

    God bless.

    • Karen Fayeth

      Mrsupole – Thanks for the comment and here’s wishing you and your family a wonderful Christmas. I’m looking forward to a whole new year of TT fun!!

  • Heaven

    This is very interesting and thanks for sharing this ~

    Nice to meet you at TT ~

    Happy Holidays to you and your family ~

  • Denise

    Thanks for sharing this about Frankincense. I’ve sung that song every year, it seems, my whole life. I knew what it was used for in biblical times, but didn’t know where it came from. Thanks for sharing this during this holiday season. Have a wonderfully Merry Christmas!

    • Karen Fayeth

      Denise – Crazy, right, we sing about it but don’t know what it is. Glad you enjoyed this week’s TT post.

      Thanks for the comment!!

  • Andy

    Hello Karen.
    Very interesting information provided here. I actually learned something new because I too didn’t know where frankincense came from. I have to say the tears are beautiful.
    Lovely post & great photos.
    Thanks for sharing. I appreciate the visit too.

    An Inscription Of Love

    • Karen Fayeth

      Hi Andy – Thanks for stopping by and for leaving a comment. I was so touched by your TT contribution this week, so I’m doubly honored you came by my blog.

      Happy TT!!

  • JGH

    I must say, I had no idea where frankinsense came from. It got me wondering how easy a Boswellia tree would be to cultivate. From the photos, the climate looks pretty arid – like New Mexico, even! Wonder if they’d grow here…I’d be willing to try!

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