The Gift of the Magi

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The Gift of the Magi

Gift of the Magi, The - Hardcover - USA - Candlewick.jpg

An illustrated version.

Author O. Henry
Published 1905-12-10
Type Fiction, Short story
Genre Romance
Themes Romance, Christmas
Age Group Adult

The Gift of the Magi is a Christmas-themed short story written by O. Henry and first published in a newspaper on 1905-12-10, then in a short story anthology called The Four Million on 1906-04-10. The title is a reference to the three magi from the Gospel of Matthew. The story is now in the public domain.

The story focuses on Della, a married woman with a strong desire to buy a proper Christmas gift for her husband Jim. Unfortunately, her efforts to save money only left her with a pittance, so, in desperation, she sells something very important to her.


Own?Compilation book.
Read?High school text book.
FinishedSome time between 1995-1998.

The story was part of required-reading in my high school English class, though I'm not positive if I actually read it completely, but we also watched the 1952 rendition as well. I read it again on 2023-01-30 in a compilation book.




— This section contains spoilers! —


  • The story is sweet and romantic.
  • It highlights the problems of consumerism, especially the pressure to buy Christmas gifts for people even when you can't afford them. And, when the two young lovers sell off their most prized possessions they end up buying gifts that neither can use which finally makes them realize that having each other is what's really important.


  • Jim gets the short end of the stick. Della's hair will grow back in a year or two and she'll be able to wear the combs, but Jim will never get his grandfather's watch back. If he's smart, he'll return the chain buy his watch back.


  • Della's fear that Jim would "kill" her for cutting her own hair, her fear that he would no longer find her attractive, and her being described as "Mrs. James Dillingham Young," is a stern reminder of the sexist era in which the story was written.
  • The story ends with over-the-top praise for the magi of the Gospel of Matthew. This is both obnoxious and ahistorical.
    • The gifts of the magi include expensive perfumes. These could be described as "extravagant," but certainly not "wise" gifts to a poor mother. A wise gift would be something to make her life easier: a crib, baby clothes, or even money. To get value out of the perfumes, the family would have to sell or trade them, but, because they're poor, they would probably get accused of stealing them and have to settle for something significantly lower than their actual value.
    • O. Henry claims that the magi invented the art of giving Christmas presents which is doubly wrong. They weren't "Christmas" presents as the holiday didn't exist until a few centuries later. Also, gift giving, like pretty much every Christmas tradition, was assimilated from existing traditions, in this case, Saturnalia.
    • Since they appear in only a single ancient document filled with supernatural elements with no contemporary witnesses and are not described or named, the three magi are most likely fictional.


Strong female character?FailDella is very dependent upon, and even afraid of, Jim.
Bechdel test?FailDella is the only woman.
Strong person of color character?FailI don't think race is mentioned, but, from the way they're described, I think both characters are white.
Queer character?FailThere are no queer characters.


I remember seeing the 1952 O. Henry's Full House version in high school, but my favorite adaption is from Christmas Eve on Sesame Street where Bert and Ernie trade their most prized possessions to Mr. Hooper.


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