The holiday season is a time of love and peace. A celebration of faith and tradition with family and friends. It’s a period of reflection, renewal, joy, and generosity.
Or, at least, it’s supposed to be.
Regrettably, the pressures of the commercialization and material expectations of this special season often make peace seem more like a dream than a reality for many people and often long before December even rolls around.
We don’t know any reservations with which Jim may have grappled, but it isn’t unreasonable to assume that he also felt twinges of reluctance to part with something so high in monetary and sentimental value as his gold watch. Regardless, his action demonstrates that his love for his wife enabled him to give up a dear possession.
How do we serve those we love? Are we unselfish in giving of time and sharing our blessings, material or otherwise? Or do we like those people only because of how they can benefit us?
3) The most valuable gifts aren’t necessarily material goods. As you may have suspected by now if you’re unfamiliar with the tale, Jim and Della each selected an item for the other to complement his or her prized possession. Della bought an elegant gold chain for Jim’s watch, and Jim bought a lovely set of hair combs for which Della had wished. Materially speaking, their well-intentioned generosity was in vain since neither could use the gift. However, neither one is vexed for long.
Jim has a “peculiar expression” when he first sees his wife’s shorn locks. Furthermore, he must comfort Della, who is initially distressed when she unwraps her combs, but she soon smiles agreeably and remarks how fast her hair grows. When Jim sees his watch chain, he also smiles and suggests storing away their gifts temporarily. Della then prepares their supper.
As thoughtful as the material items were meant to be, Della and Jim’s sacrifice for each other was the gift of greater value.
O. Henry concludes his story by describing Jim and Della as “the magi,” saying that of all wise men this young couple is the wisest because of their self-sacrifice for each other.
We have been taught that it is more blessed to give than to receive and that we also receive when we give to others. However, we sometimes forget that the hidden ingredient behind the truth of these words is love. It is selfless love that animates sacrifice and makes it sweet and that empowers the act of giving to be something other than a mechanical offering.
O. Henry reminds us of this lesson through the fictional characters of Jim and Della.
The gift of self-sacrifice might entail giving up material goods like the Dillinghams did. Yet self-sacrifice could also mean we give up previously-made plans to take care of a sick loved one or to call a friend going through a hard time.
Self-giving could also come in the form of devoting time, energy, and resources to create something homemade (instead of store-bought) like a hand-knitted scarf, a home-cooked meal or a photo album of old memories accompanied by hand-written notes.
What better time than the holidays to re-ignite a more personal and selfless type of love in our attitude to gift-giving and in our interactions with loved ones and in our communities? We may find that our disquieting holiday stress melts into the joy and goodwill that this season is meant to celebrate.