The Gift of the Magi

gift of the magiHave you ever thought long and hard about what would be the prefect Christmas gift for someone you love? This story by William Porter, better known by the O. Henry, is one of the most famous Christmas stories of all time. It has featured in movies, TV specials, musicals, an opera and several cartoon series. It tells how a poor couple each sell their most valuable possession in order to buy a Christmas present that they feel is good enough for the one they love.

English Learner Vocabulary Help

The words and expressions in our Pre-Intermediate level Simplified English story which are not in our 1200 word list are: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and .

General Comments on the Story

pocket-watchTo properly understand Della’s gift for Jim, it is important to know that the story was written at a time when few people wore watches on their wrist. Most men carried pocket watches like the one on the right. These were attached to their clothing or a belt loop by a chain or short leather strap to stop them from being dropped.

hair-combWe are told in the story that Jim’s gift to Della was a “beautiful set of combs, side and back, with jewelled edges”. These are not the normal kind of combs we use every day to make our hair look smooth and neat, but special combs (often decorative) worn by women with long hair to keep a hair-style in place.

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pen name(n: pen-name pl pen-names) A name used by a writer instead of his or her real name.

(v: approve, approves, approved, approving) To believe that something or someone is good or acceptable. 2000 The opposite of approve is disapprove.
(n: approval pl approvals) The belief that something or someone is good or acceptable; a good opinion of someone or something 2000

dull(adj: dull, duller, dullest) 1. Not exciting or interesting; boring. It was a very dull book. 2. Not shiny, bright or clear. It was a dull day. 3. Having an edge or point that is not sharp; blunt. A dull knife. 4. Slow to learn or to understand. The clever children help the dull ones. 3000

gift(n: gift pl gifts) Something that is given willingly, such as a present. They gave me a surprise gift on my birthday. 2000

horror(n: horror pl horrors) 1. A very strong feeling of fear or dislike. 2. A disagreeable person or thing. Her little boy is an absolute horror. 3000
(adj:ˈhorrible) 1. Causing horror; frightening; dreadful. A horrible sight. 2. Very bad or unpleasant. What a horrible day! 2000

hug(v: hug, hugs, hugged, hugging) 1. To put your arms around someone or something, especially as a way of showing love or friendship. 2. To be or stay very close to something. 6000

jewel(n: jewel pl jewels) A precious stone (such as a diamond, ruby, emerald, sapphire) that has been cut and polished.
(n: jewels, plural) An ornament or pieces of jewelry containing a precious stone or stones. She loved dressing up in her jewels.
(adj: jeweled or jewelled) Covered in jewels. 3000

madame(n: madame pl mesdames) Used like 'Mrs' as a title for a married Frenchwoman. 6000

merry(adj: merry, merrier, merriest) Very happy and cheerful; feeling or showing joy and happiness. 3000

narrow(adj: narrow, narrower, narrowest) Long and not wide; small from one side to the other side. The bridge is too narrow for large vehicles to cross. 2000

nervous(adj: nervous) Having or showing feelings of being worried and afraid about what might happen.
(adv: nervously) In a nervous way. 3000

overcoat(n: overcoat pl overcoats) A long coat worn over other clothes to keep a person warm during very cold weather. 7000

platinum(n: platinum, noncount) A heavy grey metal that is more valuable than gold. Used in making expensive jewellery. 9000

proud(adj: proud, prouder, proudest) 1. Feeling very pleased because of something you have done or own, someone you know, etc. She felt proud as she watched her daughter graduate. 2. Having a too high opinion of oneself; arrogant. She was too proud to talk to us. 2000
(n: pride, noncount) A feeling of pleasure and satisfaction at one's achievements, possessions, family etc. She watched with pride as her daughter graduated. 3000

reflect(n: reflection pl reflections) 1. An image that is seen in a mirror or on a shiny surface. He saw the reflections of the clouds on the lake. 2. Something that shows the effect, existence, or character of something else. The high crime rate is a reflection of the violence of our society. 2000

shame(n: shame, noncount) 1. A feeling of guilt, regret, or sadness because you have failed at something or done something wrong or foolish. 2. Something that causes such a feeling; a pity.
(adj: shameful) Something so bad that someone should feel shame because of it.
(adj: shameless) Having done something shameful without feeling shame. 2000

(n: spirit pl spirits) 1. The inner quality or nature of a person. She has a kind and loving spirit. (น้ำใจ) 2. The force within a person that is believed to give the body life, energy, and power. Often thought of as not part of the body and to remain alive (eg as a ghost or able to be born again) when the body dies. He may be dead, but his spirit still lives on. 2. A similar force which some cultures believe to exist in all non-human entities (animals, plants, rivers, mountains, etc.). (จิตใจ) 2000

soul rising spirit house

waterfall(n: waterfall pl waterfalls) An area in a stream or river where running water falls down from a high place; a cascade. (น้ำตก) 7000

whisper(n: whisper pl whispers) A very quiet sound, especially something said. (การกระซิบ; การส่งเสียงเบา ๆ)
(v: whisper, whispers, whispered, whispering) To speak or say something very softly. (กระซิบ) 5000

wise(adj: wise, wiser, wisest) Having gained a lot of knowledge from books or experience or both and able to use it well. (ฉลาด)
(n: wisdom; noncount) 1. The knowledge gained from books or experience. 2. The quality or state of being wise. (ปัญญา; สติปัญญา) 2000

A 21 minute film segment from the 1952 movie ‘O. Henry’s Full House’. The introduction and narration is by Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck. To watch online, click here. To download the mp4, click here.
A 20 minute “Christmas Special” produced by WCCO-TV (CBS Minnesota). Many of O.Henry’s stories were written at the request of newspapers and magazines. In the introduction to this film, there is an interesting background piece about how O. Henry was almost late for Christmas with this one. To watch online, click here. To download the mp4, click here.

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