All about Herbs and Wild Edibles

All about Herbs and Wild Edibles

The Herbs and Plants of Christmas

Dennis Ellingson

Do you wonder about where we get some of our Christmas traditions? There may be some answers in the plants, herbs and spices we utilize. Let’s take a look at three.

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The Jesse Tree: In the USA and other countries the Christmas tree plays center stage to our celebrations. So who thought of dragging a fresh cut tree into the house? It is possible the idea came from a Bible verse written some 2800 years ago. It is a verse that is prophetic and has a parable built in. You have probably seen a fresh sprout come up from an old stump of tree that was cut down. Willow trees are very apt to do this. This verse found in Isaiah is that example by comparing the coming Messiah to that fresh sprung twig that will grow mighty.  Isaiah 11:10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

Long ago the tradition of the Jesse Tree was started. It was a way to note our coming Messiah. Decorations would be made for the Jesse Tree. They are called “Crismons” and are handmade decorations that represent scenes and things from the Christmas story. These ornaments were then hung on the Jesse Tree. This was a reminder through all of the Christmas season of not what Christmas is about but Who.

The Hanging of the Greens: The custom of hanging fresh cut greens in a church or home represents both new life and eternal life plus making the place the greens are hung smell wonderful. Early Christians would decorate church and home and in a church setting they might sing the ancient hymn “Good Christian Men Rejoice.” And there is much to rejoice about. Psalm 5:11 But let all who take refuge in You be glad, Let them ever sing for joy (rejoice); And may You shelter them, That those who love Your name may exult in You.

Frankincense, Myrrh and Gold: Certainly there is no more familiar story to us than this. The Wisemen, three or more, travel from Babylon to bring the newborn King of kings gifts. They too rejoiced. Matthew 2:After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

So the idea of that Christmas tree, surrounded by gifts form and for us may have come from this first event. Frankincense and Myrrh are both resins or pitch from specific trees. They were costly then and remain costly to this day. Both resins are used for a number of things and the smell of both is heady and different. There are medicinal qualities to both. I have used both and I can’t help but think of the Christmas story each time I use them.

Then there is the symbolism of the three gifts that has been considered practically since the birth of the Christ child. Initially one would have thought them to be strange gifts. Frankincense; this was the resin of the priesthood, carefully used. The aroma, as an incense, wafted as a symbol of our prayers to God.  Most people could not afford it and what would a newborn babe do with it? Then there was the Myrrh which main function was used in anointing the dead and to mask the odor of the decomposing body. Certainly this was not a gift for a child. Gold might have been more practical. If you are a parent and you have raised children then you know what an expensive process that is.

We have come to discover this: Frankincense is meant for God and this little child was born as Emmanuel – God with us. Gold is meant for kings and He came as King of kings and Lord of lords. And the Myrrh remains as something for those who died. The little baby came as the sacrifice for all of us and our many sins.

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