Christmas Specials Wiki
Christmas Specials Wiki

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 beautiful knee-length brown hair cut off and sold to make a wig. Meanwhile, Jim decides to sell the watch to buy her a beautiful set of combs made of tortoiseshell and jewels for her 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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Suspense: "The Gift of Fear" 1953 In an effort to get her young son to behave a department store's toy department, she tells him that bad children are locked in a closet by a mean watchman. Later, the child slips out of the house and returns to the store to buy his mom's present. His timing is bad, and he's locked in at closing, spending the whole night trying to escape the "scary" night watchman.
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Stanley: "Christmas Show" 1956 Stanley has a music box picked for Celia's Christmas gift but doubts it's worth. He daydreams himself to Victorian England where his present is now filled with gold coins. He gives it to Celia, a barmaid. Returning to reality he finds his girl is appreciative of the original gift.
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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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Dr. Finlay's Casebook: "The Gifts of the Magi" 1966 The ambitious and headstrong young Doctor Finlay, played by the dapper Bill Simpson, goes head-to-head with his more mature colleagues Drs Cameron and Snoddy as they cast their stethoscopes aside and don a more theatric mantle in preparation for a Christmas party at the children's ward. Despite the doctors' best efforts, the real star of the show emerges from the side lines.
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Billy Liar: "Billy and the Gift of the Magi" 1973 Billy is determined that he wants a pair of bright yellow trousers for Christmas. However, firstly he can't afford them and secondly his father is just as determined that Billy won't get such hideous attire.
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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.
Alice: "Mel, the Magi" 1979 The girls worry about having enough money to buy gifts for everyone for Christmas and Flo proposes that each one just buys one gift for someone. However, each person's sacrifice of something dear to them to buy a gift for another turns sour (a la "The Gift of the Magi").
Kate & Allie: "The Gift of the Magi" 1987 Mirroring the classic Christmas story by O. Henry, they sell precious belongings in order to give each other special gifts.
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 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.
Nurses: "The Shift of the Magi" 1993 Casey tells anyone that they got fabulous gifts for Christmas, so they go out of their way to get her something nice. But when the box arrives, she finds that it is filled with padded hangers. Meanwhile, Jack is forced to play Santa in the hospital--though he later plays him out of the goodness of his heart; and Hank realizes that he had made arrangements to work on Christmas months prior.
O. Henry's Christmas 1996
Adventures of the Book of Virtues: "Generosity" 1997 Although it's a Thanksgiving episode, it has The Gift of the Magi.
Mickey's 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.
Out of the Box: "Happy Holidays!" 1999
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Teacher's Pet: "The Blight Before Christmas" 2002 At the end of the episode, Pretty Boy gives a piece of string ripped off from his seedball to Mr. Jolly to put on his rubber mouse. Mr. Jolly then admits he ripped apart his rubber mouse to give Pretty Boy a bell for his seedball. ("You mean to tell me I ruined a perfectly good seedball for this?!")
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 Princess Crystal tells Eugene to "break a wing" at the hatchday celebration, but he does poorly with the audience. He shows the soaring suit he made to her, but the suit wears off in a failed attempt. He temporary separates 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 has the magic flying dust to him as they soar off to the sky.
Barney & Friends: "Gift of the Dinos" 2007 BJ hopes for a baseball mitt to go with his baseball, while Riff hopes for some drumsticks for his drum. Before long, they both are struggling with getting gifts for one another. So BJ decides to trade his baseball in order to get drumsticks for Riff, and Riff trades his drum to get BJ a baseball mitt. BJ and Riff are disappointed, because, despite getting the gifts they wanted, they had to trade their favorite things to do so. Barney reminds them that it's not about getting gifts but giving them. To get their mind off their disappointment, Barney and the others take them out to hear some carolers. Barney still happens to have a few more gifts in his "Santa bag", including BJ's baseball and Riff's drum.
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 them, but she then reveals that she sold her necklace in order to buy a new silver guitar for him.
Gift of the Magi 2010
The Amazing World of Gumball: "Christmas" 2012
We Three Kings 2020 Amy, Catherine, and Charles Fay put together a Christmas play at their church. With the help of Uncle Henry's new song, "We Three Kings", not only is the Christmas pageant a success, but the children learn truths about Jesus and the gifts that were given to Him by the Magi.
Stan Lee's Superhero Kindergarten: "How the Super Ks Save Christmas" 2021

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 Youngs are 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.
  • In Robot Chicken there is a skit called "Gift of the Maji" where Della gets her head shaved bald to buy a chain for her husband's watch meanwhile Jim tries to buy combs for his wife's long hair but decides not to after realizing they cost as much as his watch. When his wife gets home he berates her for shaving her head. She revealed that she shaved it to get a locket for her watch but he was ungrateful and said he would've rather kept his hot wife for Christmas. He gives her lingerie and a Santa hat instead so she disappointedly tells him she's going to stay with her mother for awhile.


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