Della and Jim were young and poor, and they loved each other so much. Their small, threadbare apartment was in a rundown part of New York City, but it had been their home since they were married, and they were happy in it.
Now it was the day before Christmas, and Della was counting her savings. One dollar and eighty-seven cents—that was all it came to. Just $1.87. And the next day would be Christmas.
Della toss herself onto the sofa and wept. Only $1.87 to buy a gift for Jim. She had spent so many happy hours planning about what she would get him. It had to be something fine and precious, just like Jim himself. But what could she do with $1.87?
Suddenly Della stopped crying and sat up. She had an idea—why hadn’t she thought of it before? Quickly she went to the mirror and pulled the pins from her hair.
Now, there were two possessions in which Jim and Della both took great pride. One was Jim’s gold watch and the other was Della’s beautiful brown hair.
With trembling hands, Della did up her hair again, wore her old brown jacket and hat. With a whirl of skirts, she hurried downstair to the street.
She walked until she came to a sign that read: “Madame Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” Della knocked on the door, and a woman answered.
“Will you buy my hair?” Della asked.
“Take off your hat and let me have a look at it,” Madame said.
Down rippled the beautiful brown hair.
“Twenty dollars,” said Madame.
“Okay. Do it quick,” said Della. And Madame did. A few snips and she was finished.
For the next two hours, Della searched the shops for Jim’s gift. She found it at last, the one gift that surely had been made for him and no one else: an elegant platinum watch chain. Grand as Jim’s watch was, Della knew that he was ashamed of its shabby strap. With the platinum chain, he could consult his watch with pride in the finest company.
As soon as she got home, Della looked at her hair in the mirror. “If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “he’ll say I look like the newsboy. But what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?”
At seven o’clock, holding the watch chain tightly in her hand, Della sat down to wait for Jim. When she heard his footsteps on the stairs, she said a silent prayer: “Please let him think I am still pretty.”
The door opened and Jim walked in. He stared at Della with an expression she could not understand.
“Jim, darling,” she cried, jumping up to hug him, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold it so I could buy you a Christmas present. It’ll grow back – my hair grows awfully fast. Please, Jim, say ‘Merry Christmas’ and let’s be happy. Wait till you see the gift I’ve got you!
“You’ve cut off your hair?” said Jim slowly, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just the same? I’m still me, even without my hair.”
Suddenly Jim seemed to wake from his trance. He took Della in his arms. Then he took a package from his pocket.
“Don’t worry, Dell,” he said. “No haircut could make me love you any less. But unwrap this package, and you’ll see why I looked so disappointed.”
Excitedly, Della tore off the paper. She gave a joyful cry, which instantly turned to tearful wailing.
For inside the package lay a set of combs Della had seen in a shop window on Broadway and longed for ever since. Beautiful tortoiseshell combs, with jeweled rims. They were expensive, she knew, and she had longed for them without the least hope of ever owning them. Now they were hers — and the beautiful hair they should have adorned was gone.
But she hugged the combs and tried to smile. Looking up with damp eyes, she said, “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”
Then she leapt up and cried, “Oh, oh! You haven’t seen your present yet!” She held it out to him eagerly.
“Isn’t it wonderful, Jim?” she said breathlessly. “I hunted all over town for it. You’ll have to check the time a hundred times a day now.
Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks.”
But Jim just flopped down onto the sofa and smiled sadly. “Dell,” he said, “let’s put our Christmas presents away for now. They’re too nice to use just yet.” Then, taking a deep breath, he said, “I sold the watch to get the money for your combs.”
I have just told you the story of two young people who foolishly gave up their greatest treasures so they could give gifts to each other. But were they really foolish? I think not. People who give as they did, without thinking of themselves, are the wisest givers of all. They are the Magi. The Magi, as you know, were the wise men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus.