Thursday 27 October 2016

Doctor's Orders: The Magi gifts were really so thoughtful

The Three Wise Men were actually wiser than we gave them credit for

Dr Ciara Kelly

Published 28/12/2015 | 02:30

The inn crowd: A scene in which Joseph and Mary arrive at the Inn is depicted by actors at a Nativity play in England
The inn crowd: A scene in which Joseph and Mary arrive at the Inn is depicted by actors at a Nativity play in England

Oh man! I love this time of year. We're all still in happy, festive mode but all the organising, cooking, cleaning, shopping and general hullabaloo is over. Now it becomes totally legit to slob around in your Pyjamas and graze on turkey and mince pie sandwiches, while watching back-to-back Star Wars movies - not episodes 1-3, obviously - and Indiana Jones marathons. Yes, I do have an enormous crush on Harrison Ford, thanks for asking.

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But I also think here at Doctor's Orders that, even though the rest of you are still on holidays, this is not the time for us to rest on our laurels, we (and by we, I mean me) remain obliged to bring you up-to-the-minute health information - so this week we are going where few Health Columns are willing to go, to discuss 'nativity scene' medicine to try and stay on brand with the season of goodwill.

The baby is chronologically now in the manger and poor Mary, we hope, is recovering from her long journey and less-than-ideal labour conditions - and basically the Shepherds have headed off and The Holy Family are now just hanging out in the stable with the donkey and the sheep, awaiting the arrival of the Three Wise Men.

The old joke goes that if they had been Three Wise Women they would have brought nappies, frozen lasagne and wine for the family. Because, obviously, women have got the true 'wisdom' thing nailed down - but, as they were men, instead they brought gold, frankincense and myrrh - or gold, Frankenstein and a mirror, as we used to say.

Mostly, no one has a clue about what those things even are, let alone why you would bring them to a newborn baby. But here at Doctor's Orders we have no problem muddling up religion and medicine (those of you who are regular readers will recognise that is funny), and we will reveal the mysteries of the Epiphany to Christmas lovers everywhere.

The gold bit is pretty obvious - not only is it actually worth a few bob, but it also symbolises wealth, prosperity and, indeed, royalty. The frankincense and myrrh, however, are less well known nowadays, so we're not really sure what that was about.

Frankincense and myrrh are both derived from the sap of Boswellia Sacra tree, which still grows throughout the Middle East and Africa, and they remain slightly familiar to us in that they are some of the fragrant substances in incense - which may, in fact, be short for frankincense (but I'm mostly making that up).

They were used in ancient times traditionally to anoint the heads of important babies. But why, I hear you ask impatiently? Calm down - I'm getting there… It was because of their medicinal healing properties.

Yes, frankincense and myrrh have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties and were once used to treat everything from toothache to leprosy. From arthritis to cuts and scrapes. They were, in fact, ideal for newborn infants and their mums -particularly those who were living in a cowshed - to ward off pain and infection. It was Ye Olde Worlde equivalent of dropping by with a bottle of Calpol and a few Disprins to the baby Jesus and his folks. Boom! For millennia, The Magi have been both slagged and misunderstood for their crap Christmas presents, but it turns out the Wise Men were actually pretty wise after all!

This week we may be all about eating Christmas pud in front of the TV, but not so next week - when I'll be all about 'New Year, new you'.


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