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Ms. Magnolia

Dear Ms. Magnolia, American writer William Sydney Porter, using the pen name O. Henry, wrote “The Gift of the Magi,” published in 1905. A major reason given for the enduring appeal of this famous story is its affirmation of un

selfish love.

The story tells that in New York City around 1900 in a tiny apartment on Christmas Eve, a young husband and wife try to buy secret Christmas gifts for each other with very little money. “Now, 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.” Della discovers that she has only $1.87 to buy a present for her husband Jim. So she visits a hairdresser who buys and cuts Della’s long, beautiful hair to make wigs. Della then uses the money to buy a platinum pocket watch chain for Jim’s watch.

When Jim comes home from work that evening and sees her hair, Della excitedly gives him the chain and admits that she sold her hair to buy it. Then Jim gives Della her present — a set of ornamental combs, which she can’t use until her hair grows back out. When Della asks him to put the chain on his watch, Jim confesses that he sold the watch to buy the combs.

While the gifts that Jim and Della gave each other can’t be used, “each sold the most valuable thing he owned in order to buy a gift for the other.” The story ends as the narra- tor compares these sacrificial gifts of love with those of the Biblical wise men, or Magi, who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn Jesus.

Letters have been edited for length and clarity.

If you have a question for Ms. Magnolia, please mail it to P.O. Box 669, Vidalia, GA 30475, or e-mail to [email protected]

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