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To test your Christmas knowledge, see the trivia quiz at the bottom of this page!
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
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.
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
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.
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."
"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, though, 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
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.
was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have
seen a pierglass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person
may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal
strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della,
being slender, had mastered the art.
she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were
shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty
seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full
there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which
they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been
his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had
the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would
have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to
depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the
janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would
have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck
at his beard from envy.
now Della's beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a
cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself
almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and
quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear
or two splashed on the worn red carpet.
went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of
skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she
fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.
she stopped the sign read: "Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All
Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting.
Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the
you buy my hair?" asked Della.
buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a
sight at the looks of it."
rippled the brown cascade.
dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.
it to me quick," said Della.
and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed
metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.
found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else.
There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned
all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste
in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not
by meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do.
was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it
must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value--the description
applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and
she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim
might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the
watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old
leather strap that he used in place of a chain.
Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and
reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to
work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is
always a tremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task.
forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that
made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her
reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.
Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes
a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus
girl. But what could I do--oh! what could I do with a dollar and
eighty- seven cents?"
7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of
the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.
was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on
the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then
she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and
she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little
silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she
whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still pretty."
door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very
serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two--and to be burdened with
a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.
stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of
quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in
them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger,
nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments
that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with
that peculiar expression on his face.
wriggled off the table and went for him.
darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my
hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived through Christmas
without giving you a present. It'll grow out again--you won't mind,
will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry
Christmas!' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice--
what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."
cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not
arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.
it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as
well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"
looked about the room curiously.
say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy.
needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell
you--sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for
it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she
went on with sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever
count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"
of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For
ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential
object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a
year--what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you
the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not
among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.
drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.
make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think
there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that
could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that
package you may see why you had me going a while at first."
fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic
scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical
tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the
comforting powers of the lord of the flat.
there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had
worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise
shell, with jewelled rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful
vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had
simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of
possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have
adorned the coveted adornments were gone.
she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up
with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"
them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh,
had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him
eagerly upon her open palm.
dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright
and ardent spirit.
it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to
look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I
want to see how it looks on it."
of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the
back of his head and smiled.
said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a
too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to
buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."
magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought
gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving
Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones,
possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication.
And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two
foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each
other the greatest treasures of their house.
in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all
who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive
gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are
The answers to the following can be found within the various posts on this blog...
Holiday Names and Greetings
1. “X-mas” is an irreverent, non-Christian name for the holiday.
2. “Noel” comes from Old French, meaning “new birth”.
3. “Yule” comes from an ancient Viking celebration of the turning of the sun.
4. “Feliz Navidad” directly translated into English means “Happy Birth”.
5. “Mele Kalikimaka” is Hawaiian for “enjoy the holiday feast”.
The Nativity of Jesus
6. Modern calendar years are based on the verified year of the birth of Christ.
7. The number of visitors, known as Magi, Wise Men or Kings, was three.
8. The Wise Men, or Kings, came to see the newborn baby lying in the manger.
9. Early Christians believed Christ was born on December 25th.
10. Shepherds watched their flocks on the cold winter’s night of Christ’s birth.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
11. The Twelve Days of Christmas begin on December 13th.
12. The gifts given on each day in the song represent items at a Christmas party.
13. The “Two Turtle Doves” represented the Old and New Testaments.
14. The last two gifts were 11 lords a leaping and 12 drummers drumming.
15. St. Nicholas, who preceded Santa Claus, was born in Germany in 1622.
16. Santa’s flying sleigh and reindeer originated from stories in the 1800’s.
17. Although he’s known by many names in many places, Santa is always a man.
18. Kris Kringle was the name of an early Dutch Santa Claus figure.
19. Santa Claus is largely unknown in places like Japan and China.
20. Rudolph’s story was a promotional creation of Montgomery Ward stores.
21. Blixen is the name of Santa’s eighth reindeer.
22. Donner, the seventh reindeer, is sometimes incorrectly called Donder.
23. The reindeer were first named in “Twas the Night Before Christmas”.
24. Instead of reindeer, in Sweden, a goat pulls Santa’s (Tomten’s) sled.
25. The custom of decorating trees for Christmas originated in Germany.
26. Before the 1500’s, Christmas trees were considered a pagan custom.
27. Martin Luther is credited with first putting candles, or lights, on the tree.
28. There is no mention of a Christmas tree in Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol.”
29. Hanging the tree upside down from the ceiling used to be popular.
30. The first Christmas card was created and sent in London in 1840.
31. The most popular selling Christmas Carol of all time is “Silent Night”.
32. Mistletoe used to be hung for enemies to meet under and call a truce.
33. Poinsettias were first brought to the U.S. from Mexico by Mr. Poinsett.
34. Christmas mince pie contained rabbit, pheasant and partridge meat.
35. “Nog” in eggnog refers to a heavy noggin (head) from drinking too much.
36. The tradition of filling stockings originated in the country of Turkey.
37. Sleigh rides with jingle bells is a favorite Christmas activity in Australia.
38. Celebrating Christmas was once outlawed in Merry Olde England.
39. Candy canes were created to keep children quiet during church services.
40. Swedish Christmas celebrates St. Lucia, who helped needy people in Italy.
1. False. “X” comes from the Greek letter that start’s Christ’s name and represents Christ. 2. True. Oui, oui. Noel is tres French, an old word which is related to the nouvelle, meaning “new”. 3. True. The word “yule” is old Norse for wheel, meaning the wheel in the sky that turns to give more light. 4. True. “Feliz” means “happy”. “Navidad” translates to nativity, which also means birth. 5. False. It means nothing in Hawaiian. It is an attempt to spell English “Merry Christmas” using Hawaiian letters. 6. False. There is no historical verification to the year of Christ’s birth. Some scholars believe it was in 2 to 4 B.C. 7. False. Three gifts are mentioned, but no number of the visitors is given. Some believe there were 12 or more. 8. False. They arrived well after Christ was born, and most likely saw him inside a home in a regular bed. 9. False. No exact date was known. When Romans became Christian, the Dec. 25th date replaced a pagan holiday. 10. False. Shepherds were not in the fields with their flocks during winter. This most likely occurred in the spring. 11. False. They start on Christmas Day, Dec. 25th, and last until Jan. 6th, the Eastern Orthodox Christmas Day. 12. True. In Old England, a party was held on “12th Night”. All the gifts were represented through food or fun. 13. True. The gifts and numbers were created to represent / disguise gospel principles for early persecuted believers. 14. False. There are 10 lords a leaping, not 11. Correct answer: 11 pipers piping, 12 drummers drumming. 15. False. St. Nicholas was born in Asia Minor, now known as Turkey, sometime during the 3rd Century. 16. False. The idea originated from early legends of Viking gods flying through the skies on animal-pulled sleighs. 17. False. In Italy, the gift giver is an old woman known as La Befana. In parts of Russia, she is known as Babushka. 18. False. Kris Kringle is an Americanization of the German gift giver “Christ-kindl”, or “Christ Child”. 19. False. Santa Claus has become a popular holiday figure in both Japan and China, not necessarily for Christmas. 20. True. It was a 1939 promotional gimmick given to those who did Christmas shopping at Montgomery Ward. 21. False. The name of the eighth reindeer is spelled Blitzen, not Blixen. 22. False. The original text of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” spells the seventh reindeer’s name as Donder. 23. True. “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement C. Moore was the first text that named the eight reindeer. 24. True. Although many reindeer are in Northern Sweden, Tomten rides a sled through the forest pulled by a goat. 25. False. The Germans adapted modern tree traditions from customs of the ancient Romans and Celtic druids. 26. False. 7th Century Catholic monk St. Boniface used the indoor evergreen’s triangle shape to teach of the Godhead. 27. True. Legend claims Martin Luther first put candles on his tree, to represent the light of Christ for his children. 28. True. Christmas trees did not become popular in England until after Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol”. 29. True. Many trees were originally hung upside down in Old Europe and in early Pennsylvania settlements. 30. True. John C. Horsley created his own card in 1840. The idea caught on, and his card was re-printed in 1843. 31. False. Although “Silent Night” is popular in many countries, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” is the top seller. 32. True. Used for many things, mistletoe brought people together, including those who needed to kiss and make-up. 33. True. Joel Roberts Poinsett, Ambassador to Mexico, introduced the “Holy Night Flowers” to the U.S. in 1825. 34. True. Originally, mince pie was a meat pie. Fruits and spices were later added, and then the meat was dropped. 35. False. “Nog” is another term for “grog”, which is a rum-based drink. Eggnog is sometimes served with rum. 36. True. St. Nicholas, who lived in Turkey, is claimed to have assisted the needy by leaving gold coins in stockings. 37. False. Christmas in Australia occurs during summertime. A beach barbecue is a popular Christmas Day event. 38. True. From 1645 to 1660, because of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans, celebrating Christmas was illegal. 39. True. A Cologne Cathedral Choirmaster gave shepherds crook-shaped candy to kids during long nativity services. 40. True. Though celebrated in Sweden, Lucia’s legend began with her Christian services and martyrdom in Italy.
Correct Answers Rating: 40 - Cheater, you peeked! Not even Santa knew all of these. 35 to 39 - Next in line to be Santa. How’s your “ho, ho, ho”? 30 to 34 - A true Christmas elf. Santa’s looking to promote you. 25 to 29 - On Santa’s Nice List, but you could do better. 20 to 24 - Rockin’ around the Christmas tree, but you’re missing some good stuff. 15 to 19 - You like Christmas, but your favorite holiday is Halloween, right? 10 to 14 - Christmas is coming, and you haven’t got a ha’penny. God bless you. Less than 10 - Bah humbug. You need to pay more attention if you want more than coal in your stocking. Better watch out or you’ll get run over by a reindeer.