Christmas Stories: The Gift of the Magi

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The Gift of the Magi was published by O. Henry, which was the pen name of William Sydney Porter.

Porter was imprisoned for embezzlement, where he created his pen name, based on a list of notable names.  While in prison, Porter also gained a great sympathy and greater understanding for people, which would later inspire many of his stories.

After he was released from prison, he had a contract with New York’s World to publish one story a week.

In 1905, World was waiting for O. Henry’s story when the illustrator, Dan Smith, approached the author.  He asked Price what he should draw.  Porter “having no plot in his conscious mind,” described a room with two people in it – a man with a watch in his hand and a girl with beautiful long hair. The story later developed in Henry’s mind, and no one ever suspected that it had been written after the picture was drawn.”

The story is about a couple struggling to provide Christmas presents for one another when they have little money.  Both the husband and wife unselfishly give what is most dear to them for their loved one. The story ends with comparing their giving to that of the Biblical magi.

The story appeared in the New York Sunday World on December 10, 1905.  O. Henry’s anthology The Four Million featured the story when it was first published in April 1906.

Porter died on June 5, 1910, but his legacy lingers on. The “O. Henry style” is still referenced today to described “stories, generally humorous, with ironic twists or surprise endings.”

The story has been adapted for a variety of presentations over the years and the enduring story of sacrifice remains relevant today.