All is ready now. The big orange suitcase is packed, laden with gifts she got at Christmas. Her clothing has been laundered and neatly folded. Her coat hangs on the back of a kitchen chair, waiting for her tiny arms to be thrust through the sleeves before being zipped up.
Soon the car will be loaded; soon we will be on our way back to the airport, where, after spending two weeks with us over Christmas break, my granddaughter will fly back to Florida to be reunited with her mother.
In two days it will be what the Spanish refer to as El Dia de los Reyes—Three Kings’ Day, when Christendom celebrates the coming of the wise men from the east. According to some historians, these three magi had been on a quest for nearly two years, following a bright object in the heavens, not knowing exactly where it would lead them. They bore gifts—precious gifts—fit for a king.
We don’t know much about the magi. Presumably they had some sort of academic bent, because they knew of an old prophecy and studied the stars. Perhaps they were astrologers—that breed of scientist who looks to the stars to predict future events, or to make some sense of current affairs.
Among the stories penned by the American writer William Sydney Porter, perhaps the most famous is his short Christmas tale, The Gift of the Magi. Writing under the pen name O. Henry, Porter spins the story of a young married couple who have fallen on hard times. The husband’s salary has been cut by a third, the name on the mailbox has lost its luster, it’s Christmas eve and Della, the wife, has only $1.87 to buy her husband Jim a Christmas present.
Through O. Henry’s magic, we learn how Della sells her long auburn tresses for $20 which she then uses to buy a platinum fob chain for Jim’s gold pocket watch. Meantime, Jim arrives a bit late from work, having pawned his watch to buy an expensive set of tortoise-shell combs for Della to adorn her hair. In foolishness, each sacrificed that personal thing of greatest value in order to procure what turned out to be a useless gift for the other.
This Christmas, in addition to A Child’s Christmas in Wales and The Night Before Christmas, I read The Gift of the Magi to our granddaughter. Despite a few big words and several archaic turns of phrase in the text, she managed to grasp the gist of the story. This I know, because she explained it all to me afterwards.
“That’s an example of irony,” I told her. She looked puzzled. “What’s that?” she asked. I did my best to explain it to her, using Della and Jim as an example.
This Christmas my granddaughter gifted me a mug that bore the picture of a kitten. It cost her one dollar. (She forgot to remove the price tag on the bottom before she wrapped it up, and a fine wrapping it was.)
This Christmas that was the second best gift I got. It was given to me by the best gift herself. It was a gift of the magi.