The Gift of the Magi

"The Gift of the Magi" is a short story by O. Henry first published in 1905. The story tells of a young husband and wife 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 popular 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 Gift of the Magi"
AuthorO. Henry
CountryUnited States
Genre(s)Short story
Published inThe Four Million
Publication typeAnthology
Publication dateDecember 10, 1905 (newspaper); April 10, 1906 (book)[1]

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.


On Christmas Eve, with only one day left to find a Christmas gift for her husband James Dillingham Young, Della sells her hair for $20 to a nearby hairdresser named Madame Sofronie. She eventually finds a platinum pocket watch fob chain for Jim's watch for $21 and was satisfied that she found the perfect gift for Jim.

Later that night Della admits to Jim that she sold her hair to buy him his present. Jim gives Della her present – a set of combs, useless now that her hair is shortened. 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 ornamental 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 sacrificial gifts of love with those of the Biblical Magi.



  • The Sacrifice (1909)
  • Love's Surprises Are Futile (1916)
  • The Gift of the Magi (1917)
  • As 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),[3]
  • Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas (1999)[4]
  • The Gift of the Magi (2004)
  • For the First Time (2010)[5]
  • Love, a French movie, based some of its scenes on this story.
  • Raincoat (2004)
  • The Gift of the Magi (2014) The Greek film directed by Ismene Daskarolis places it in the economic crisis of contemporary Greece.
  • Ustedes los ricos ("You, the Rich Ones") (1948) includes the tale as a small sub-plot
  • Darovete na vlahvite (2013) directed by Ivan Abadjiev.

Other media

  • 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 the 1978 Christmas Special Christmas Eve on Sesame Street Ernie and Bert do a parody of The Gift of the Magi. Ernie gives up his Rubber Duckie to buy Bert a cigar box to put his paperclip collection in and Bert gives up his paperclip collection to get Ernie a soapdish to put his Rubber Duckie in but in the end Mr. Hooper happily gives them back their stuff.
  • 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.
  • An off-Broadway musical version entitled The Gifts of the Magi[6] 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.
  • Radio drama series Adventures in Odyssey features a comedic adaptation of this story in its episode "Gifts for Madge & Guy" (1987).
  • The opening sketch of the December 10, 1988 episode of Season 14 of Saturday Night Live reimagines "The Gift of the Magi" as Donald and Ivana Trump (played by Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks) selling their yacht Princess and estate Mar-a-Lago, each in order to pay for a gift intended to adorn the other.[7]
  • 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.
  • In 1993, an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 had TV's Frank selling his hair and buying Dr. Forrester a watch fob. However, Dr. Forrester did not sell his watch to buy Frank a comb, merely thanking Frank for the watch fob for his still-owned watch.
  • In 1998, Indian singer Pankaj Udhas released his album Stolen Moments. The visualization of the song Ahista is a modern adaptation of The Gift of the Magi.
  • A parody appears in the 1999 Futurama episode "Xmas Story", in which Zoidberg gives Amy Wong a set of combs, only for her to reveal that she sold her hair to a wigmaker in order to buy a set of combs for Hermes Conrad, who then reveals that he sold his hair to a wigmaker in order to buy a set of combs for Zoidberg. Zoidberg then reveals that he has purchased Amy and Hermes' hair to wear on his own head.
  • In the 1999 Disney Christmas Video Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse do a parody of The Gift of the Magi. Mickey trades his harmonica to buy Minnie a chain for her watch and Minnie trades her watch to get Mickey a case for his harmonica.
  • In 2018, an episode of Puppy Dog Pals entitled "Bingo and Rolly's Birthday" had each of the two dog characters trading their prized possessions (a stick collection and a Captain Dog action figure) to obtain gifts for each other (a box for the stick collection, and a spring to repair the launcher on the action figure).


  1. "The Gift of the Magi is published – This Day in History – 4/10/1906". 2011. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  2. "O'Henry and The Gift of the Magi".
  3. Не буду гангстером, дорогая
  4. Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas on IMDb
  5. O. Henry on IMDb
  6. St. Germain, Mark; Courts, Randy (1984). The Gifts of the Magi. New York: Dramatists Play Service, Inc. ISBN 978-0-8222-1461-8
  7. Watch A Trump Christmas from Saturday Night Live on, retrieved 2017-08-03
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