The Gift of the Magi

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"The Gift of the Magi"
The Gift of the Magi.jpg
Author O. Henry
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Short story
Published in The Four Million
Publication type Anthology
Publication date December 10, 1905 (newspaper); April 10, 1906 (book)[1]

"The Gift of the Magi" is a short story, written by O. Henry (a pen name for William Sydney Porter), about a young married couple and how they deal with the challenge of buying secret Christmas gifts for each other with very little money. As a sentimental story with a moral lesson about gift-giving, it has been a popular one for adaptation, especially for presentation at Christmas time. The plot and its twist ending are well-known, and the ending is generally considered an example of comic irony. It was allegedly written at Pete's Tavern[2] on Irving Place in New York City.

The story was initially published in The New York Sunday World under the title "Gifts of the Magi" on December 10, 1905. It was first published in book form in the O. Henry Anthology The Four Million in April 1906.


Mr. James Dillingham Young ("Jim") and his wife, Della, are a couple living in a modest apartment. They have only two possessions between them in which they take pride: Della's beautiful long, flowing hair, almost touching to her knees, and Jim's shiny gold watch, which had belonged to his father and grandfather.

On Christmas Eve, with only $1.87 in hand, and desperate to find a gift for Jim, Della sells her hair for $20 to a nearby hairdresser named Madame Sofronie, and eventually finds a platinum pocket watch fob chain for Jim's watch for $21. Satisfied with the perfect gift for Jim, Della runs home and begins to prepare pork chops for dinner.

At 7 o'clock, Della sits at a table near the door, waiting for Jim to come home. Unusually late, Jim walks in and immediately stops short at the sight of Della, who had previously prayed that she was still pretty to Jim. Della then admits to Jim that she sold her hair to buy him his present. Jim gives Della her present – an assortment of combs, useless now that her hair is short. Della then shows Jim the chain she bought for him, to which Jim says he sold his watch to get the money to buy her combs. Although Jim and Della are now left with gifts that neither one can use, they realize how far they are willing to go to show their love for each other, and how priceless their love really is.

The story ends with the narrator comparing the pair's mutually sacrificial gifts of love with those of the Biblical Magi:[3]


The story has been adapted to films, The Sacrifice (1909), Love's Surprises Are Futile (1916), The Gift of the Magi (1917), a segment of O. Henry's Full House (1952), The Gift of Love (1978), The Gift of the Magi (1958), Dary magów (Poland, 1972), Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978), I'll not be a gangster, love (Не буду гангстером, дорогая/Nebūsiu gangsteriu, brangioji, USSR, 1978),[4] Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas (1999),[5] The Gift of the Magi (2004) and the short film for the Irish band The Script in 2010 called For the First Time.[6] Love, another French movie, based some of its scenes on this story. Raincoat (2004), a Hindi film directed by Rituparno Ghosh is an adaptation of the story. [7] The Greek film directed by Ismene Daskarolis (2014) places it in the economical crisis of Greece today. [8] The Mexican film Nosotros los pobres includes this tale as a small sub-plot. There is also a Bulgarian adaptation known as the short film "Darovete na vlahvite" (2013) [9] directed by Ivan Abadjiev.

  • An off-Broadway musical version[10] premiered at Lamb's Theatre in New York City in 1984. Written by Mark St. Germain and Randy Courts, the play is regularly produced in schools and regional theaters.
  • In 1955, in The Honeymooners episode 13 of season 1, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" involves Ralph looking for the perfect present for Alice for Christmas. Without money, he pawns his prized bowling ball to buy her an expensive gift, only to find out in the end, that she bought him a custom bowling ball bag.
  • In 1992, in Rugrats episode 27 "The Santa Experience", Phil doesn't know what to get Lil, so Angelica convinces him to give up his precious Reptar to get Lil markers for her Color Me book, and then convinces Lil to give up the Color Me book to get a space helmet for Phil's Reptar even though Angelica was now in possession of it. The twins both believe the sacrifice is the greatest gift of all, leaving Angelica in bitter Christmas spirits until she returns the original gifts.
  • The Squirrel Nut Zippers song "Gift of the Magi" from their 1998 album Christmas Caravan is a duet sung from the point of view of both Jim and Della.
  • On folk punk band Andrew Jackson Jihad's 2011 album Knife Man, the second track is titled "Gift of the Magi 2: Return of the Magi".
  • Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, which is a twist on "The Gift of the Magi", is a children's storybook by Russell Hoban which was first published in 1971. In 1977, Muppet creator Jim Henson produced a one-hour television adaptation of the story, filmed in Toronto for HBO in the United States and CBC in Canada. The special premiered on HBO on December 17, 1978. The special later aired on ABC in 1980 and on Nickelodeon in the 1990s. The special features several original songs written by songwriter Paul Williams.
  • In the Futurama episode "Xmas Story", Amy, Hermes and Zoidberg engage in a gift exchange reminiscent of the one from "The Gift of the Magi".
  • The sketch comedy show Studio C contains a skit called "Gift of the Magi" in which Jim and Della argue over their gift-giving.
  • The television series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has the episode "The Gift of the Maud Pie" in which Pinkie Pie gives Maud a perfect gift, costing her the confetti-using Party Cannon. Maud's gift in return was confetti for the cannon of which Pinkie Pie had sold.
  • Radio drama series Adventures in Odyssey features a comedic adaptation of this story in its episode "Gifts for Madge & Guy"
  • The title of this book is referenced in "The Simpsons", and used with a little variation ("grift" instead "gift") like title of eleventh season's Christmas episode, "Grift of the Magi".
  • The story was turned into a song by Joni Mitchell. She never made a studio recording, but her some of her live performances can be found on the internet.


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