Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Gift.

Pop culture has an entire mystical edifice built around 'giving’. The Biblical-sounding admonition, “’Tis better to give than receive” sums it up. Christmas is the season of giving. It’s the Christmas spirit, see? Santa Claus is also a part of it, I guess. What’s his role in the whole season-of-giving rigmarole? Frankly, he’s the guy who sits in a mall to act as a conduit of children’s wish lists. The marketing suits hire him. So, he owes them one. Things got murkier when ol’ O.Henry from good ol’ Greensboro hopped on the giving wagon with his The Gift of the Magi. This short story ranks with the best in the genre. O.Henry − William Sidney Porter in real life − was the son of Algernon Sidney, a physician, and Mary Jane Virginia Swaim Porter. His great-uncle, Jonathan Worth, was governor of North Carolina from 1865 to 1868. Dogged by bad luck, he was incarcerated between 1897 and 1901 for alleged embezzlement of bank funds. In1910, O.Henry died of diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver in New York. Five years earlier, he wrote The Gift of the Magi in the bar of Pete’s Tavern, extant even now, in the Gramercy area of Manhattan. Giving is a sign of love was his message. But a sign to whom? In Della and Jim’s case, there was no need to prove their love for each other. In buying the gifts they could scarcely afford they were merely conforming to a pop-culture ‘tradition’ fuelled chiefly by commerce. Were the Magi’s "gifts of gold and of frankincense and of myrrh" to the new-born in the manger a wise and thoughtful choice? Frankincense and myrrh were probably for the baby’s body rub. What about gold, though? Was it a tribute to the perceived royalty and divinity of Jesus perhaps? P.S.: This morning, purely by accident, I happened to watch on the MGM Channel a 1988 movie called Masquerade. It’s about Olivia, a recently orphaned heiress swept off her feet by a dashing yacht racing skipper (Tim). To start with, his courtship is a part of a conspiracy to wed and kill her and share her wealth with his co-conspirators. But as their relationship grows, he begins to love her in right earnest so much so that, after marriage, he voluntarily gets his name removed from her will without her knowledge. He wants nothing from her, in short. He even sacrifices his life to save hers. How about that? (I know. I know. It's only a movie.)