The Gift of the Magi is a short story written by O. Henry (a pen name for William Sydney Porter), about a young married couple 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 a popular one for adaptation, especially for presentation during the Christmas season. The plot and its "twist ending" are well-known, and the story and its lesson are sometimes subverted for the sake of irony or humor. It was allegedly written at Pete's Tavern on Irving Place in New York City.


Jim Dillingham Young and his wife, Della, are a young couple who are very much in love with each other but can barely afford their one-room apartment due to their very bad economic situation. For Christmas, Della decides to buy Jim a chain for his prized pocket watch that was given to him by his grandfather. To raise the funds, she has her long, beautiful hair cut off and sold to make a wig. Meanwhile, Jim decides to sell the watch to buy Della a beautiful set of combs made of tortoiseshell and jewels for her lovely, knee-length, brown hair. Although each is disappointed to find the gift they chose rendered useless, each is pleased with the gift that they received, because it represents their love for one another which is eternal.

The story ends with the narrator comparing the Youngs' mutually sacrificial gifts of love with those of the Biblical Magi:

The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the newborn Jesus in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. In a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi.[1]


Christmas specials

Picture Production Year Notes
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O. Henry's Full House 1952 This anthology film, dramatizing five O. Henry short stories, features a fifteen-minute adaptation of the story starring Farley Granger and Jeanne Crain.
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The Gift of the Magi 1958 A one-hour musical adaptation presented on CBS, starring Gordon MacRae and Sally Ann Howes.
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Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas 1977 Features a story with Ma and Emmet.
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The Gift of Love 1978 A 1978 television movie starring Marie Osmond and Timothy Bottoms.
Christmas Eve on Sesame Street 1978 In a subplot adapted from the album Merry Christmas from Sesame Street, Ernie and Bert trade in their most prized possessions at Hooper's Store so that they can afford Christmas presents for each other - Ernie trades his Rubber Duckie for a cigar box to hold Bert's paper clip collection, and Bert trades his paper clip collection for a soap dish to hold Ernie's Rubber Duckie. In contrast to the original story, Mr. Hooper, realizing what is happening, returns both things to Ernie and Bert in the spirit of Christmas.
Phil and Lil Gift of the Magi
Rugrats: "The Santa Experience" 1992 The first Rugrats Christmas episode features a subplot with Phil and Lil trying to find presents for each other. Angelica makes Phil trade in his Reptar doll for a box of crayons for Lil's coloring book, and then cons Lil into trading her coloring book for a space helmet for Phil's Reptar doll. However, after realizing Santa Claus will likely punish her with coal for this bad deed, Angelica tries to give their things back.
Mickys Gift of the Magi
Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas 1999 The last segment is an adaptation of the story with Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Mickey trades his harmonica to buy a golden chain for Minnie's watch, while Minnie trades her watch for a case for Mickey's harmonica.
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Futurama: "Xmas Story" 1999 Dr. Zoidberg gives combs to Amy, who sold her hair to buy combs for Hermes, who sold his hair to buy combs for Zoidberg. Zoidberg then removes his hat to reveal his new hairdo, made from Hermes' and Amy's hair.
Gonzo and Rizzo Gift of the Magi
Bunsen and Beaker Gift of the Magi
Johnny and Sal Gift of the Magi
It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie 2002 In the opening scene, three pairs of best friends (Gonzo and Rizzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker, and Johnny Fiama and Sal Minella) exchange presents at the Muppet Theater's Christmas party. Rizzo reveals that he sold his collection of rare cheese to buy a crystal petri dish for Gonzo's mold collection, but Gonzo sold his mold collection to buy Rizzo a diamond-tipped cheese slicer. Beaker sells his periodic table of the elements to buy a stand for Bunsen's electron microscope, but Bunsen sold the microscope to buy rare mutagenic elements (which cause Beaker to grow a second head). Sal tells Johnny that he sold his moped to buy him a solid gold record player; Johnny, however, has not bothered to buy anything for Sal.
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In Search of Santa 2004 Throughout, Princess Crystal has the relationship with her boyfriend, Eugene. She told to him to break a wing at the hatchday celebration, but he badly did with the audience. He shows the soaring suit he made to her, but the suit wored off in a failed attempt. He temporary separated it in order to move forward for the main plot: to find Santa Claus in his city in the North Pole. By the ending, she have the magic flying dust to him as they soared off to the sky.
Horseland: "Sister, Sister" 2008
Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation! 2009 At the end of this special, Jeremy presents Candace with a pair of earrings that she wanted. He admits that he had to sell his guitar in order to afford the earrings, but Candace then reveals that she sold her necklace in order to buy her gift for Jeremy - a new silver guitar.
Gift of the Magi 2010
The Amazing World of Gumball: "Christmas" 2012

Other adaptations

  • The Mystery Science Theater 3000 showing of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians use "The Gift of the Magi" concept in one of their host segments, when Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank trade gifts...though it turns out they took something of each other's to pay for their gifts (Frank stole Forrester's Rolex and Forrester stole Frank's plasma).
  • In a classic skit on Saturday Night Live, the pair is played by John Belushi and Gilda Radner. His character literally gives till it hurts; hers not so much, leading to him having a characteristic meltdown.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episode "The Gift of the Maud Pie", Pinkie Pie trades away her beloved Party Cannon to give her sister a special rock-holding bag and begs Rarity not to tell her. However, Rarity suffers a case of "hoof-in-mouth" and blurts out what happened, leading to Maud going back to return the bag for the Party Cannon. This version of the story is quite different as it only involves one of the characters trading away items.


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