I Will Bring A Lantern


Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.


Some years ago, or once upon a time, as all good stories begin, our diocesan newspaper had the custom of filling their Christmas issue with Christmas stories, (many of them), even with pictures to offset them.  It seemed that, for a brief time, the usual news receded and bowed to a much bigger event.  I always looked forward to this issue.  Periodically, we all need a good story where the chief character or characters struggle with the vicissitudes of life, where someone or some circumstance intervenes to assuage the struggle and where all ends well, even better than it was at the beginning.  If there is an element of surprise, so much the better.


     In looking for a Christmas story, I chanced, again, upon O. Henry’s Gifts of the Magi.  It is a story, of course, that most of us probably read for the first time in High School.  Even though it may be quite familiar to many of our readers, we will tell it, again, just to get into the Christmas spirit.  If a story is really good, most people do not mind hearing it again.  Many times, something happens in the retelling.


Gifts Of The Magi


One dollar and eighty-seven cents!  That is all Della had, and tomorrow was Christmas. She had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present.  Then it came to her like a flash.  There were two possessions that meant much to both Della and Jim.  One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and grandfather’s.  The other was Della’s hair, which reached below her knees. Della knew what she would do.  She would sell her hair.  With that, she put on her old brown jacket and her old brown hat, and fluttered out the door.


     Della saw the sign: “Hair Goods of All Kinds.” Out of breath, Della asked: “Will you buy my hair?” “Take off your hat, and let’s have a look,” came the reply.  “Twenty dollars,” said the woman, lifting the lovely brown cascade with a practiced hand.  “Give it to me quick,” said Della.


     For the next two hours, Della ransacked the stores for Jim’s present, finding it at last - a simple and beautiful gold chain for his watch.  The price was twenty-one dollars.  With that, Della hurried home with the 87 cents.


     Reaching home, Della took out her curling iron.  In a short time, her head was filled with ringlets, much like that of a schoolboy.  Jim was never late.  When she heard him on the stairs, she whispered a prayer: “Dear God,” she prayed, “ make him think I am still pretty.”  Jim opened the door and stood there stunned.  “Jim, darling, she cried, “I had my hair cut off and sold it because I could not have lived through Christmas without giving you a present.  Maybe the hairs on my head are numbered, but no one could ever count my love for you.” Jim took his Della in his arms.


     Jim placed a package on the table.  “Unwrap the package, “ he said.  Della tore at the strings and paper.  She let out an ecstatic scream of joy.  There lay a set of beautiful combs for her now vanished hair - combs with jeweled rims.  She hugged them to her bosom.  Excitedly, she thought of Jim’s present. With that, Della held out the chain upon her open palm.  Softly, and with a smile, Jim whispered, “Della, I sold the watch to buy the combs.”  The story pretty much ends here.*


     O. Henry seems to think that the magi of old invented the custom of gift giving. He also implies that, in his opinion, these two young people were wiser than the magi. They realized that in gift-giving one gives the other what they think the receiver would really like.  However, there is the added note.  The giving involves a sacrifice from the giver. As I prayed over this story, I wondered what I would bring to the crib this Christmas.  What is it that means the most to me?  It may well be something that I have waited years to give.


      We have a tendency to think that Christmas is an event that happened long ago and something outside of our everyday life.  Still, we know that Christmas is all about God entering into everything that is human.  What part of my reality is the stable God wishes to enter this Christmas?   I wonder, too, what would be good to give this Child, who, indeed, is too little to know what gift to ask for.  What will he need later on?  Perhaps a gold ring would be fitting, a ring that will fit his finger when he grows to be a tall boy, a ring that will be a constant reminder that God is always with him.  And Mary and Joseph?  For some reason, I would like to give them a lantern, the old fashioned kind, the kind farmers used years ago in Iowa, a lantern that would show them the way. My plan would be to attach a note of encouragement for what lies ahead, all those joys and struggles that go with being human.


     Something new and vibrant happens each Christmas.  God, too, is pondering what to give each one of us.  What is my deepest wish?  More importantly, what is it that God wants to give me?  I  shall, indeed,  look for it on Christmas morning.


    * For a complete rendition of this story, see A Christmas Treasury. Edit. Jack Newcombe. (New York: The Viking Press, 1982) p. 209.