The Gift of the Magi1
by O. Henry
A short story, first published in a New York City newspaper in 1905.
A loving husband and wife make sacrifices to buy each other material gifts at Christmas that prove less important than the emotion behind them.
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.
In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."
The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.
Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling--something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.
1 Magi Three wise men from the East (identified in Western tradition as the kings of Arabia, Persia, and India), who journeyed to Bethlehem to deliver gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) to baby Jesus.
PORTRAIT: O. Henry (William Sydney Porter). Courtesy New York Public Library.
CITATION INFORMATION (in MLA format): Henry, O. "The Gift of the Magi." Gleeditions, 17 Apr. 2011, www.gleeditions.com/thegiftofthemagi/students/pages.asp?lid=106&pg=5. Originally published in American All: Stories of American Life To-day; edited by Benjamin A. Heydrick; Harcourt, Brace and Howe; 1920; pp. 79-85.