By Anne Gagliano
As the holidays approach, I am reminded of my favorite story on gift giving, “The Gift of the Magi” by William Sydney Porter, pen name O. Henry. Written in 1906, it is the story of an impoverished young married couple who, with little funds to spare, desperately seek worthy Christmas gifts for one another. Della, the young wife, has only $1.87 with which to find “…something fine and rare and sterling…something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by (her) Jim.”
Della has only one possession of value, her lovely hair, which was “…rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters, it reached below her knees and made itself almost a garment for her.” She decides to sell it. It is her pride and glory, that which makes her feel beautiful, but this great a sacrifice is nothing to her compared to her love for her husband. She finds the perfect gift with her newly acquired $20.00, a platinum fob chain for his watch. The watch is Jim’s most cherished possession, having belonged to both his father and his grandfather. The new chain will replace the old, worn leather one. She can’t wait to give Jim his Christmas gift and can only pray as she waits for him to come home, “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”
When Jim finally arrives, he stares long and hard at his wife’s shorn head. Hurt by his apparent disapproval, but undaunted, she tells him she has sold her hair to buy him the chain, which she proudly gives to him. Jim is moved to silent tears as he strokes the sleek platinum. Della asks if he still finds her beautiful. He replies, “I don’t think there is anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less.”
Della was mistaken by his shock. It was not disgust or displeasure at her appearance but rather confusion, for he had sold his precious watch to buy her combs for her long hair, combs she no longer could use! The combs were “…the set…side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window…pure tortoise shell with jeweled rims…expensive…her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession.” Now they were hers. Both had sacrificed the very best they had to give out of love for each other.
This story moves me so as I know how it feels to be in it. My husband Mike and I have never had much money. We married very young and had two babies right away. Firefighters don’t make a huge salary, and housewives make even less. Money has always been tight for us, especially around Christmas, as we have always striven to make things magical for our boys. Our budget leaves very little for us to spend on each other.
Every year for the past 15 years or so, we make trips to a little mountain village named Leavenworth. It sits high in the Cascades, just east of Seattle, and is nicely situated next to a lovely river. It is full of charming shops, mountain beauty, and delicious Bavarian foods. On one of our first trips there many years ago, in my favorite shop called Kris Kringle, I saw something I wanted. It caused me to “…worship long”…and made my heart “…simply crave and yearn without the least hope of possession,” for it was expensive and, even worse, was completely unnecessary in life. It was a little hand-painted porcelain haunted mansion that lit up inside and made thunder and lightning sounds. I love Halloween, and this charming set was the most adorable, unusual Halloween decoration I’d ever seen. It included haunted, fall-colored trees; a garage; real light-up Jack-‘o-Lanterns; and a pumpkin-covered fence. All the pieces were tiny and perfect and beautiful. So fun, so cute, and so expensive! I walked away and tried to put it out of my mind, for in no way could I justify spending so much on a Halloween decoration!
Later that year, while I opened a gift from my beloved husband, my heart caught in my throat as I unveiled a box with the mansion picture. “No!” I exclaimed, “It can’t be! This is too expensive, we can’t afford this!”
Tears slid down my cheek as Mike said, “Don’t worry about the cost. I found a way to pay for it.” It was only later that I found out that he had sold some baseball cards from his prized collection to pay for it.
I have since then received more expensive gifts–gifts that have surpassed this one in both value and function, gifts that I love and appreciate. But this little Halloween village is one that I treasure in my heart above all others. It is one I will grab if I ever have to leave the house quickly, because of the sacrifice and thoughtfulness it represents. Mike had seen the delight on my face when I first saw the set and had made note of it. He sought a way to pay for it without compromising our budget.
“Magi” means wise man. Be a “wise man” to your beloved this year. Don’t let the kids or other relatives dominate your giving. Remember your sweetheart, and try to find something they will delight in as much as I have delighted in my silly little village. Put thought and maybe even a little sacrifice into your plans. That’s what giving is all about.
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 25 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.