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Do you believe in magi?

When was the last time you read O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi"? What's that? You've never read it? What's your excuse? Here's a link, courtesy of Auburn University: "The Gift of the Magi."

The language seems a bit antique now. (What's a "pier-glass" anyway?) And I'm not sure I even understand the last few sentences. But the story has stuck with me ever since I first read it as a boy.

O. Henry was known for his gentle wit and his surprise endings. A self-taught writer who worked as a pharmacist and a banker (and spent three years in jail for embezzlement!) he was considered "corny" by many of his peers but he had a gift for plotting, an ear for the way common people spoke then, and an economical way with words (he had to: he was incredibly prolific).

I remember sitting in a Unitarian church in Cambridge, Mass., in 1998 when "Magi" was being read as part of the service and thinking: I wonder what happened next? So I was inspired to write "The Rift of the Magi," published in my column in 2004. The next year I updated the story with some grasping yuppies in the starring roles. In 2006 I imagined what it would be like to grow up in the family O. Henry wrote about.

For me, the O. Henry story is as much a part of Christmas as tinsel or roast turkey. The moral of the story? I suppose: It's the thought that counts.

By John Kelly  |  December 28, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
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