Last December, we brought a nice sized bag of frankincense back from Oman. I intended to give the incense away to friends. But when I learned that Orthodox Ethiopians believe that frankincense should only be burned in the church, I felt bad about bringing it home in the first place, let alone, giving it away to anyone other than the church. I found it odd that burning frankincense in the home is frowned upon. After all, frankincense is burned during the Ethiopian coffee ceremony to call God. And coffee ceremony is practiced at home, in cafes, and even hotels (frankincense dominates the lobby of Addis Ababa’s Hilton Hotel, where guests can enjoy a cup of coffee). I later found out that the resin-type of frankincense is not burned in the home; only the variety reassembling dried leaves and twigs is allowed.
Tonight, absent judging eyes and noses, my mother-in-law suggested that we burn some frankincense — a good idea to me; It is Christmas Eve, after all. According to the gospel of Matthew 2:11, frankincense was one of the gifts the wise men offered baby Jesus.After heating the coal directly on the eye of stove, I placed the coal inside a burner and then put the frankincense on top of the hot coal. As the resin burned, the white, woody smoke filled the air and it reminded me of a live Christmas tree, which normally perfumes my mother’s house this time of year. This year, that smell of home has been replaced with the smell of Ethiopia and the Middle East. The frankincense reminds me of our first days in this country, good coffee, and the rainy season. It reminds me of shopping in Nizwa, pristine sand dunes, and nonchalant camels. I reflect on how fortunate I am to be with family this time of year. I give thanks that Christmas 2013 is a merry one, indeed.