And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

Matthew 2:11

The gifts of Magi were essentially the anointing of Christ as the King, God and the Sacrifice. The virtue of gold, the prayer in the frankincense and the death and suffering of sacrificial myrrh foreshadows the legacy of Jesus Christ, for they are gifts from the Magi, the wise men of the East.

The Adoration of the Magi by Albrecht Durer

It is this rich symbolism that O.Henry, the wizard of masterful ironies, juxtaposed into a humbler marriage story. As much as it appears to be a shift from the divine to the mundane, it is essentially the art of finding the divine in the mundane.

The story follows Jim and Della, a poor couple trying to buy presents for each other for Christmas. However, they end up being unable to use the gifts because Jim bought a comb for Della after selling his watch and Della bought a chain for Jim’s watch after selling her hair. But they both end up receiving the gift of love for each other, thus alluding the gift of Magi.

In its harmony of paradoxes and richness of symbolism, the plot, extrapolates into the socio-economic and political environments as well. It is notable, that Jim, sells his watch while Della buys a chain for him. Considering context, this implies the maxim that time is money and a “chain” for time implies an attempt to claim control over it. On the other hand, Della cuts her hair, a traditional symbol of feminine beauty while Jim, buys a comb, to tame the wilderness of her hair.

The Gift of the Magi illustration by P.J.Lynch

Their gifts align well with the societal cliché of determining a man’s value by his time and a woman’s value by her beauty. Yet the wisdom of their love defies it sweetly. Thus a rational decision gone wrong ends up as a wise emotional choice. In this way, the gift of the Magi is a Christmas tale with the still, small voice of love- the greatest virtue, prayer and revolution.

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