Retro Review: The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

The_Gift_of_the_MagiShort story The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry (real name William Sydney) is probably quite familiar to most of my readers, but it’s an important story to keep in mind during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. And to me, it’s a soothing parable in our time of hate, bigotry, violence and greed.

The Gift of the Magi was originally called Gifts of the Magi and published in The New York Sunday World in December of 1905. Later O. Henry had it published in his collection of short stories The Four Million in 1906.

The Gift of the Magi tells the story of a newly-wed couple, James (Jim) and Della Dillingham. They are madly in love and living in a rundown apartment in New York City. Money is quite tight, but they are determined to buy each other the perfect Christmas gifts despite their lack of funds.

Della is blessed in long, thick hair, which goes down to her knees. Jim has a gold watch, a family heirloom that once belonged to his father and grandfather.

As I mentioned, Jim and Della are not flush with cash. Della wants to buy a beautiful  chain for Jim’s watch. However, she only has $1.87, not exactly a princely sum even in the early 1900s. What shall Della do? Della decides she will sell her hair so she goes off to the local hairdresser by the name of Madame Sofronie who cuts off Della’s gorgeous long hair. With the $20.00 she received for her sacrifice, Della buys Jim the perfect platinum pocket watch fob. She just knows Jim will be delighted with it and can’t wait to see the look on her face when he opens her gift. She also hopes he isn’t too upset over her newly-shorn locks.

With dinner on the table, Jim arrives back to his and Della’s humble abode. He is taken aback by the sight of Della’s hair, but not for the reasons Della might think. Della explains that she sold her hair so she could buy him a Christmas gift. It is then Jim hands Della his Christmas gift to her, a collection a beautiful and quite expensive hair combs, which Della can’t wear because of her shorter locks.

Della then bestows Jim’s gift-the platinum watch fob. Jim is touched by Della’s generosity but tells Jim that at this point the watch fob is unneeded because he sold his watch so he could afford the hair combs.

Though saddened they can’t use the gifts they bought for each other, Della and Jim commend each other for their sacrifices they made out of love just like the Biblical Magi. And let’s face it, Della’s hair will grow and one of these days Jim will be able to buy a gold watch.

The Gift of the Magi is a timeless and timely story that is told many times at the holiday season but is perhaps one that should be read during the non-holidays. It took me a short time to read this sweet and comforting story and it gave me sense of peace during a very trying time in my life. I also think this is a great story to read aloud to people of all ages and will touch people’s hearts.