The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

Well, Kim went off track from our usual list last week in the spirit of the holidays to talk about the Christmas stories of Dickens. I enjoyed that, and decided I should do something similar myself. Given that, what better off track topic could there be (given that Kim already grabbed Dickens) than “Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry.

Now, people give O. Henry a lot of crap for the kind of stories he wrote. Admittedly, he tended to write very simple stories and milked his signature twist ending absolutely to death. Still, he had an amazing amount of influence…”Gift of the Magi” in particular. Whether or not you care for O. Henry…the likelihood you know the story is very, very high.

Just in case: Jim and Della are two people who are very poor and very much in love. They want to buy each other Christmas presents, but have no money. Jim sells his beloved pocket watch to buy Della the jeweled hair combs she’s desired…and Della sells her beautiful hair to buy Jim a spectacular watch chain. You can tell what happens, because I’ve said it already. That’s about it.

No matter, as I’ve said, you likely already know the whole story even if you haven’t read it.

After all, I first came across this story in Sunday school. They didn’t have us read it, they didn’t even mention O. Henry, but they summarized it for the lessons it taught just like it was from the bible. Similarly, there was a parody sketch on Saturday Night Live back when Donald Trump was still married to Ivana…only in that one Donald sells his yacht to buy Ivana a gold door for her mansion and Ivana sells her mansion to buy a jeweled anchor for his yacht (or something like that). It even influenced a story by Alissa Nutting in Barrelhouse titled “The Gift of the (Da)magi(ng).”

Good, bad, or otherwise, this story has had significant influence. It’s pervasive in our culture. Say what you want about O. Henry, but you have to give him that. Sure, the story is a little saccharine…but it’s Christmas through and through, at least for me:

The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

2 responses to “The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

  1. Probably my first exposure to this story was on Sesame Street. Bert wanted a rare paper clip for his collection, and Ernie wanted a soap dish for his rubber ducky.
    As you said, everyone knows the story even if they never heard of the O. Henry version.

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