Christmas Songs Day 3: We Three Kings

We Three Kings (Of Orient Are) is our first religious-themed song. Here’s a traditional rendition by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir:

A jazzy version by legend Ella Fitzgerald:

And a rock version by Blondie

As you can see, this song has the potential to become a monotonous slog through mostly one-note droning. However, it doesn’t have to be; my favorite rendition is a very playful take on the song by Straight No Chaser:

I picked this song because it actually delves into the symbolism behind the Christmas Story most people take for granted. If you asked, a lot of Christian adults could not tell you what Frankincense or Myrrh even were.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign

Gold, of course, has long been a symbol of kingship in that kings were traditionally very rich and gold is an outward manifestation of wealth that’s more identifiable as a symbol than, say, large homes or many servants. Gold was heavily used in ancient Egyptian rituals around the pharaoh, possibly because of the connection to the sun but more likely because it’s rare and makes pretty jewelry. One school of thought links this particular gift to Jesus in his role as the “King of kings”, and it’s this theory that forms the underpinnings of this song.

 Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh
Prayer and praising, all men raising
Worship Him, God most high

(I love the playfulness here. “Newborn deities don’t generally own enough incense, so I brought some.”)

Frankincense, or olibanum, is, as you can imagine, a type of incense. It’s actually a resin that, when burned, gives off a strong scent. It was burned in temples and religious rituals, giving it an association with the divine that the theory behind this song posits is meant to represent “Jesus as Lord”. Incense in general has long been associated with the divine under the idea that the scent floats up to the heavens and is pleasing to the nostrils of the god or gods gathered there. In modern-day pagan rituals, it’s usually associated with the element of air; you could make a connection with the images of bodily rapture I suppose, but it’d be a bit of a stretch.

 Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

The third gift, Myrrh, is another resin incense, but this one has a specific meaning: it was used by the Egyptians in the embalming process, connecting it with the third aspect of Jesus, that of “Jesus the Sacrifice”. Combine this idea of death with the idea of divinity and the idea of kingship and you reach the point of the song, Jesus as Risen Lord.

(If you’d like a real authentic Christmas scent, skip the mistletoe and pick up some incense sticks in Frankincense and Myrrh. Both scents are readily available in aromatherapy and majikal supplies outlets, in stick, cone, cylinder, and essential oil formats.)

This entry was posted in Christmas Music Special, Deconstructions, Music and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Christmas Songs Day 3: We Three Kings

  1. Firedrake says:

    The words are tortured to fit the scansion (which is possibly why Straight No Chaser have such fun with it) – which is quite surprising, because the same man wrote both words and music. But I’m always a sucker for a good choir, especially when it doesn’t stint on the basses.

  2. Pingback: Deconstruction Round Up, December 14th 2012 « The Slacktiverse

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