On Christmas, Love, and Sacrifice: Reflections on O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi
By Ken K. Gourdin
Continuing the themes from my previous post about love and about sacrifice (although this post is also about something else I mentioned in my previous post, I don’t want to spoil it if there is anyone on the planet who has not yet read the story), I love O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi. If you have not read it, perhaps now would be a good time to do so before finishing my post. It is available here (last accessed today): https://www.auburn.edu/~vestmon/Gift_of_the_Magi.html.
Although this husband and wife they find themselves in modest (yet not uncomfortable) circumstances as Christmas approaches, and so they each wonder how – given those modest circumstances – they possibly can buy gifts fitting of each other and of their love for one another, through sacrifice, each finds a way.
In a way, the sacrifice of a wife for her husband, and the sacrifice of a husband, in turn, for his wife, each backfire on one another, as what the husband buys for his wife involves what she sacrifices to get his gift, and vice-versa. Or do they? One might suppose that there is nothing about their respective sacrifices that need be permanent, and that, given enough time, each can (and most likely will) recoup the sacrifices made – or at least, will amass more than sufficient resources to compensate for those sacrifices.
Yet, is that really the point of the story? One supposes not. In a theoretically-infinite number of possible universes, one can imagine one such universe in which the wife keeps both her husband’s gift and her newly-altered appearance, and in which the husband keeps his wife’s gift and yet never buys a replacement for what he sacrificed to get her gift, each as a token to the other of one’s love for the other and of the mutual sacrifice which that love engendered.
Something similar often happens in “real life”: even as a couple advances from entry-level, to mid-career, to senior career level positions, and hence, from a more modest socioeconomic position to one of greater means, and thus, their gifts for one another naturally and gradually increase in monetary value, often, it is the earliest gifts, purchased from the most modest means, that retain the greatest sentimental value. Why? Because often, it is the earliest gifts, purchased from more modest means, that involved the greatest sacrifice.
And sacrifice is what this season is all about. True, we commemorate more A Birth in Bethlehem this time of year than we do A Death at Golgotha. But the truth is that even the Birth in Bethlehem, miraculous and marvelous though it was, would have been meaningless without the Death at Golgotha. Even though Christ was Born a King, His mission would have been incomplete had he not Died a King, and obtained a victory over death by being Resurrected a King, as well. As He, Himself, informed Pilate – when Pilate asked Him, “Art thou a king, then?” – “To this end,” meaning the sacrifice of His death and resurrection, “was I born.” (See John 18:36-37).
May we celebrate, not only giving, but sacrifice, this time of year.