What is the importance of the title of the story "The Gift of the Magi"?
The magi in the Biblical story of Christmas are bearers of gifts. They travel from afar to give gifts to the Christ child. They leave behind the comforts of home and sacrifice their time to make the long journey. The magi are also called the wise men.
In "The Gift of the Magi," Jim and Della each make a sacrifice to give a special gift. Della sells her long, beautiful hair to buy a chain for Jim's heirloom watch. Jim sells his watch to buy a set of combs for Della's hair. When they exchange their gifts, they discover they are now useless. Still, they give the gift of love and sacrifice. At the conclusion of the story, O. Henry refers to the magi:
The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. . . And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house.
O. Henry points out that Della and Jim's gifts may be viewed as unwise ones. They sacrificed for gifts that neither can use as originally intended. Nonetheless, O. Henry goes on:
But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.
O. Henry refers to gift-givers as being wise, as the magi were. According to him, those who give thoughtful gifts that require sacrifice are like the magi.