Narrators 1, 2, 3(N1, N2, N3)
Della, Jim’s wife
Jim, Della’s husband
Sydney, the janitor
Would you give up the thing you treasure most?
Learning Objective: As students read this adaptation of the classic O. Henry story, they will identify the big idea about what giving really means.
New York City,
two days before Christmas, 1900
Narrator 1: The holidays are near. It’s a time of love and celebration.
Narrator 2: And gifts too.
Narrator 3: This story is based on the magi [MAYJ-eye].
N1: They were wise men who lived thousands of years ago.
N2: They invented the idea of giving presents at Christmastime.
N3: But it’s also about two people who might seem foolish.
N1: They sacrificed their greatest treasures to celebrate Christmas.
N2: Their names were Della and Jim. They were a married couple in New York City.
Della: What a beautiful walk that was!
Jim: I love New York at Christmastime.
Della: What should we do now?
Jim: Let’s check out the shops.
Della: But we don’t have any money.
Jim: It costs nothing to look.
Della (peeking in a window): Look at those hair combs! I’ve wanted them forever. They’d look so good in my hair.
Jim: Your hair is already so long and beautiful.
Della: Do you really think so?
Jim: I do. You’re gorgeous. I may be poor, but I’m the luckiest man in all of New York!
The next morning, Jim and Della’s apartment
N3: Yes, Jim was poor.
N1: He and Della lived in a shabby little apartment.
N2: But Jim had one item he was proud of: his pocket watch.
Jim (checking his watch): I have to leave for work.
Della: You look so worldly when you glance at your watch.
Jim: I do? Even with this old leather strap I use instead of a chain?
Della (hugging him): Who notices the strap when such a handsome man is holding it?
N3: On the way out of the building, Jim waved to the janitor, Sydney.
Sydney: Good morning. Off to work already?
Jim (checking his watch): I can’t be late, Sydney.
Sydney: No, you can’t, sir. That’s quite a watch.
Jim: It was my grandfather’s. It still works perfectly.
Sydney: That’s remarkable.
Jim and Della’s apartment
N1: Della was poor too.
N2: Her only treasure was her long, beautiful hair.
N3: Della and her neighbor sat at the kitchen table.
Della (counting coins): . . . eighty-five, eighty-six . . . one dollar and eighty-seven cents. No matter how often I count it, the amount never changes.
Mrs. Porter: Well, they say “a penny saved is a penny earned.”
Della: And I’ve earned these pennies, Mrs. Porter. I’ve learned to bargain with everyone. The grocer, the butcher, the milkman—I think they cringe when they see me coming. I’ll take the worst cuts of meat to save a penny. I’ll take the bruised fruit to save two pennies.
Mrs. Porter: Don’t worry, dear. Things will get better for you both. I just know it.
Della (upset): But it’s Christmas Eve. What can I buy Jim with one dollar and eighty-seven cents?
Mrs. Porter: Please don’t cry, Della.
N1: It was then that Della happened to look in the mirror.
N2: She stood there for a moment, a tear dropping on the worn red carpet.
Della: I have an idea, Mrs. Porter.
N3: She quickly pulled her hair into a bun.
Mrs. Porter (worried): Oh, Della, you can’t.
Della: I have to. For Jim. For Christmas.
N1: Moments later Della arrived at Madame Sophie’s Hair Goods of All Kinds.
Della: Will you buy my hair?
Madame: Take down your bun so I can see it.
N2: Della’s long hair fell down her back.
Madame: What could be so important that you’d give up such lovely hair?
Della: I need money to buy a gift. How much is my hair worth?
Madame: Twenty dollars.
Della: I’ll take it.
N3: For two hours, Della searched the shops for something special to buy for Jim.
Della: He needs a new coat, and every day he goes off to work without gloves to warm his hands. But his gift must be something precious.
N1: As soon as she saw it, she knew it was perfect.
Shopkeeper: How can I help you?
Della: May I see that watch chain?
Shopkeeper: Sure, miss. It’s platinum. Very expensive.
Della: It’s perfect for my husband. With a chain like this on his watch, he could check the time without ever being embarrassed. How much is it?
Shopkeeper: Twenty-one dollars.
Della: I’ll take it.
Jim and Della’s apartment
N2: When Jim came in from work and saw Della, he froze.
Della: Jim, please don’t look at me that way.
Jim: What happened?
Della: I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t go through Christmas without giving you a present.
N3: Jim continued to stare at Della.
Della (almost crying): My hair grows fast, Jim. Please say something. Wait until you see the gift I have for you!
Jim (confused): You’ve cut off your hair.
Della: I did it for you.
Jim (hugging her): I love you no matter what, Della. But when you unwrap this present, you’ll see why I’m so surprised.
N1: Della unwrapped the gift and screamed for joy . . .
N2: Then she cried.
N3: Jim had bought her the combs for her hair that she’d wanted for so long.
Della (sniffling): My hair does grow fast, Jim.
N1: She held his present out to him.
N2: When he opened it, Jim laughed.
Jim: Della, I sold my watch to get the money to buy your combs!
N3: Now they laughed together.
Jim: Let’s put our presents away for now. They’re too nice to use just yet. And now let’s have some dinner.
N1: Today we’ve told you about two people who seem foolish.
N2: They gave up their greatest treasures.
N3: But those who sacrifice their treasures for love are wise.
N1: They are the magi.
Bert and Ernie of “Sesame Street” recreate their very own Gift of the Magi in this heartwarming 9-minute video with a twist ending.
In order to honor the talent and life of the author O. Henry, his grave in North Carolina is often covered in pennies because of the importance of pennies in The Gift of the Magi.
Jim’s pocket watch is one of his most prized possessions and an important piece of this story. Show your students this video about the evolution of the watch, from the sundial to the smartwatch
More About the Article
ELA: Short story
Social-emotional learning: Relationship skills (communication); responsible decision-making (solving problems, reflecting)
Big idea, key details, making inferences, summarizing, text features, plot, character traits, author’s purpose
1. PREPARING TO READ
Set a Purpose for Reading / Explore Text Features (5 minutes)
Introduce Vocabulary (15 minutes)
2. FOCUS ON FLUENCY
Bridging Decoding and Comprehension
3. CLOSE READING
Reading and Unpacking the Text
Close-Reading Questions (30 minutes)
Critical-Thinking Question (10 minutes)
4. SKILL BUILDING
Exploring the Big Idea (30 minutes)
Divide your class into groups and assign each group one scene from the play to perform in class. As students rehearse, remind them to pay attention to the stage directions in parentheses and the punctuation mark at the end of each line of dialogue. Have each group perform the play live for the class.
Read the play aloud while students follow along. Help them identify the setting of each scene and an important plot event that takes place in each one. Use students’ answers to create a timeline of the plot.
Ask students to write journal entries from either Della’s or Jim’s point of view. The journals should express the characters’ feelings about the events in the play. Students can share their writing in small groups.