The Gift of the Magi
Hank Nuwer
Christmas Day was both a special day and a day like any other for this professional writer.
My wife Gosia and I are on a budget and so we exchanged gifts.
I gave her “beautiful combs, pure tortoise-shell, with jeweled rims.” She gave me a “platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design.”
I’m kidding of course. I’m referencing a Christmas story titled “The Gift of the Magi.” It was first published by O. Henry in the New York World on Dec. 10, 1905.
Spoiler alert: The story is about a struggling poor couple who wanted to give each other presents but barely had the money to buy chops for Christmas dinner.
So, James Young sold his precious watch, a relic passed on from grandfather and father, to buy the combs for his wife that she’d worshipped in a store window on Broadway.
Mrs. Della Young sold all her long and abundant shining hair to buy a watch fob for Jim.
The story’s title refers to the precious gold, frankincense and myrrh that a Bible story tells us the Magi brought the baby Jesus. You probably knew that if you still put out a Nativity scene under your Christmas tree. But maybe you didn’t know that in 243 B.C.E. old King Seleucus II Callinicus made an offering of those three precious gifts to Apollo, the Greek and Roman god of healing. Mr. Google tells us that the Ancients believed gold, frankincense and myrrh helped prevent arthritis.
I still remember the nun reading us “The Gift of the Magi” in the first grade. Sister looked at us afterward for responses. Little Kathleen K. was on the verge of bawling, but she was a romantic soul who’d cry over nothing anyway.
I didn’t cry, of course. Not me, a big strapping boy of six! I just had something in my eyes I had to rub away.
So, while it’s true my wife and I are on a budget as I crank out yet another book manuscript that won’t see royalties until 2025, we did give each other one gift each.
She had seen me “worshipping” a Museum of the North display of Alaska Haida argillite sculptures. These are beautiful carvings of Alaska animals.
So, Gosia, in an antique store, found an argillite sculpture of a walrus with bone tusks for me.
My gift for her was a jeans jacket with a hand-painted design on the back. I found it in a women’s specialty store in Fairbanks. No less than three sales ladies offered help as I shopped, probably because no other male had stepped foot in that store for years.
After we enjoyed our Christmas meal, Gosia and I decided to enjoy what was left of six hours of visible light in Alaska’s Interior. We drove 40 miles north of the city to take in breath-taking mountain pass scenery. We gasped at spruce trees shining like crystals in ice and snow.
Not even James Dillingham and Della Young had a nicer holiday as Gosia and I wished each other “Merry Christmas” with no human around for miles. When we came home, I put in a good six-hour stretch at my desk to finish writing a book chapter. Like I said, even Christmas is no different when you’re an author on a deadline.
Oh, by the way, O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” is free online at if you want to read it to your child before bedtime.
But don’t blame me if you and the kid need to rub something out of your eyes after you finish it.