Gift giving was once sacrificial. As Christmas approaches, we are reminded of that truth.
It was no easy feat for the three wise men to journey to the stable where Jesus was born. Travel was not easy, nor was it easy to face the pressure of the king who wanted a report on the birth. They also presented items of great value to the baby. They sacrificed time, treasure and effort, and gave with respect and courage.
In O. Henry’s famous short story, The Gift of the Magi, a young couple of very limited means sacrifice to purchase meaningful gifts for each other, unbeknownst to the other. Published in 1905, before overnight shipping and free delivery and Black Friday and Cyber Monday and “no interest for 12 months” and customer loyalty discounts and credit cards, this story of gift giving speaks of love, wisdom and spirit. There was no shame in meagerness; there was humbleness in loving.
Today, the giving of gifts seems to take less true sacrifice. A few clicks, a bit more debt, and boxes appear at our doorstep. I do not think of the crazed crowds of Black Friday when I read Henry’s description of the woman character of the story searching for a gift for her husband: “She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present. She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out.” She, Della, sacrificed more than time as she toured the stores in search of a gift, “that something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honour of being owned by Jim (her husband).” So, too, the three wise men sacrificed more than the time it took to travel to pay homage to the baby Jesus with gifts.
Henry concludes the story with, “The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the Babe 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. 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. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”
If you have not read Henry’s iconic story of love and irony, take a few moments to read it now. I wonder if the story is used in classrooms today, reinforcing the message of love, unselfishness and sacrifice. Sadly, I doubt it is.
With meaningful giving comes sacrifice, as was put into motion on the first Christmas. The greatest wrapping for that gift was love, as it is for the gifts of all types that we share with each other to this day.
Merry Christmas. Much love to you and yours.