St. Werburgh Church, Wembury 

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December 2017 Thought

Christmas – The Gifts of the Magi

A few days ago, I found myself dragooned into that most fearsome of tasks, Christmas shopping. The objective, planned with crowd busting military precision, was to purchase presents for our adult children. Moving from store to store we assessed various items and options. Would they be the right size, the right colour? Could one really have too many scarves? PS3 or PS4, was it the right games software? Within 30 minutes we were just as frazzled as every other contestant in that herd purchasing frenzy, and still hadn’t made our first buy. Alongside our indecision was the question of cost and budget. How much should we spend on them?

It brings to mind one of my favourite short Christmas stories, a salutary tale, ‘The Gift of the Magi’ by the American writer William Porter, (better known by his pen name ‘O Henry’). The story opens with $1.87. Less than two dollars, that's all that a tearful Della Young has to buy a present for her beloved husband, Jim. And the next day is Christmas. Jim and Della live in a small shabby flat, they're poor but rich in love for each other.

The story unfolds as Della goes to a mirror to let down her hair and examine it. Della's beautiful, brown, knee-length hair is one of the two great treasures of the poor couple. The other is Jim's gold watch. Her hair examined, Della puts it back up, sheds a tear, and wraps up to go out into the cold. She leaves the flat and walks to Madame Sofronie's hairdresser and wigs salon, where she sells her hair for twenty dollars. Now she has $21.87 cents.

With her new funds, Della is able to find Jim the perfect present: an elegant platinum watch chain for his watch. It's $21, and she buys it. Excited by her gift, Della returns home and tries, with the aid of a curling iron, to make her now-short hair attractive. She's not convinced Jim will approve, but she did what she had to do to get him a good present.

When Jim arrives home he finds Della waiting by the door. Rooted to the spot he stares fixedly at her, not able to understand that Della's hair is gone. Della can't understand quite what his reaction means.
After a little while, Jim pulls himself together and gives Della her present, saying that his reaction will make sense when she opens it. Della opens it and cries out in joy, only to burst into tears immediately afterward. Jim has given her the set of expensive combs and hair-slides she's wanted for ages, only now she has no hair for them. Jim embraces Della as she sobs. Once she's recovered she gives Jim his present, holding out the watch chain. Jim smiles. He sold his watch to buy Della's combs.

It is a classic tale of the pressures and pitfalls of buying Christmas gifts.

I recall the year Sharron and I got it perfect. We managed in one afternoon to buy all the right things for each of our then young three children, and all at just at the right price, though it did mean we were completely spent up. We arrived home with the car boot filled to the brim with all the presents, including Christmas Crackers, tins of sweets, and wrapping paper. As the children were just getting home from school we left everything in the car, planning to unpack it after they had gone to bed. Later that evening I discovered our car rear window smashed, the boot gaping open. Everything, even down to the rolls of wrapping paper, was gone. Devastating. We had little money left to replace the items.

The next morning, still wondering how anyone could be so mean, so cruel, as to steal children’s Christmas presents, we also discovered how generous and kind people can be. A friend from church, who never admitted to this act of kindness, secretly posted a cash filled envelope through our letterbox. That very afternoon we went shopping again. Went to the same stores, bought the same presents, even down to getting the same box of crackers. The total cost was exactly as the previous day. The amount of cash in that envelope was exactly enough to pay for it all.

The gifts we bought are now long gone. The Nigel Mansell Scalextric Set and the Bontempi Organ are consigned to landfill, or Bargain Hunt! But the important gift of Christmas, the one that never fades, never goes out of fashion, never ceases to perfectly fulfil all our human needs, and you don’t need to hunt for, is still readily available:

For unto us a Child is born,

Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called

Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

                                                               Wishing you a very blessed and peace filled Christmas, Martin