Is there any story more beautiful than The Gift of the Magi? (Probably, “yes,” you are thinking, because literature is subjective!)
Many friends associate that story with me, because few things make me laugh so consistently as off-kilter Gift of the Magi references. In particular, saying “that’s just like The Gift of the Magi!” in reference to a situation that is imperfectly related to the plot. To explain why it slays me so would be impossible, but I am delighted that my friends seem to enjoy tickling that particular funny bone.
But I also love the story genuinely, without humor or a shred of irony. It strikes me as one of the truest love stories ever written, the daily joys and sacrifices that come with loving another person for life after the credits have usually rolled on the more dramatic romances.
I don’t know if I connect with The Gift of the Magi because I so enjoy gift-giving, or if perhaps I adore gift-giving so much because the story resonated so deeply with me.
I have an odd relationship with materialism. I know that presents do not equal love, yet I sometimes express my affection through gifts. I believe that money does not buy happiness, but gifts do make people happy. I like things, but I like people more.
Ultimately, beyond the reptile brain appreciation of stuff (which I’m not hating on. I love stuff) I think what makes people happy about receiving presents is knowing that there is emotion attached to the object. The giver expends resources (time, thought, money, creativity) like the ingredients of a spell to imbue this thing with some magic, the power to symbolize love, affection, desire, gratitude.
Gift giving makes me happy because in spending my time, money, and energy finding the right gift, I am able to reflect on the people in my life. It gives me a concrete reason to think about the things that make them unique, experiences we have shared, and how they have impacted my life. It is impossible not to feel lucky after that.
And of course, there’s a game to it. There is a certain selfish pride in being clever, the puzzle of each person on my list. I’m going to go ahead and brag: I’m good at the game. If Santa retires, I’d apply for the job and at least get a second interview.
Materialism can run rampant, certainly. If all of the stuff and things were gone, ultimately, the people would still join hands and sing “Dah Who Doraze.” I believe that. I think even the Black Friday tramplers at Walmart are simply caught up in something ugly, but at heart are just trying to express something good. The pressure of gift giving is the dark side of a beautiful practice. If Della cut her hair off because she thought she had to, it wouldn’t be so poignant. I know your love for me does not depend on receiving this thing. I know that if there was nothing in my hand to offer, or (heaven forbid) the wrong thing, I would still be loved. And that is what makes giving all the more golden.
“And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But 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. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”
Merry Christmas, friends. May you all be so wise.