The Gift of the Ice Bear

A woman combs her long black hair in front of a mirror

You’ve probably heard the story: it’s Christmas. A young husband and wife are very poor, and very much in love. His dearest treasure is a gold pocket watch his father gave him; hers is her beautiful long hair.

Unknown to him, she sells her hair to a wigmaker to buy a chain to hold his pocket watch. Unknown to her, he sells his watch to buy her a set of jeweled combs for her hair.

When they exchange gifts, they realize how much in love they really are. The power of this story comes from its bittersweet irony, with just a hint of tragedy. Love truly is the greatest gift, but you can’t comb your hair with love, and love can’t tell the time.

The source is “The Gift of the Magi,” one of the most famous short stories in American literature. It was written in 1905 by American author O. Henry (the pen name of William Sydney Porter). Henry wrote hundreds of short stories, but this one was by far his most famous.

Photo of Kim Clijsters
My lovely spouse

My lovely spouse and I just had an experience that reminded us of this classic story, but without the hint of tragedy.

We have recently become fans of the Cartoon Network series We Bare Bears, a slice-of-life sitcom about three brothers who live together, and who happen to be bears. Grizz is a grizzly bear who is well-meaning but a bit dense and self-involved. Pan-pan is a panda who is girl-crazy and addicted to his smartphone (yes, I know pandas aren’t really bears, and I love how that is your first objection to this concept). But the star of the show is Ice Bear. Ice Bear is a martial arts expert who speaks only in short, direct sentences in a low gravelly voice – and consistently speaks of Ice Bear in the third person.

Here are some of his best moments from the show so far:

And so it came to pass that during one of my frequent Nights of Insomnia, I had just finished watching a few episodes, followed by the NBA TV rebroadcast of my hometown Orlando Magic’s exciting 149-113 win over the Atlanta Hawks. I mention that detail to explain what I did next: I logged in to my account to look for a Nikola Vučević jersey. I found only a few, all far above my price range – but made another important discovery.

My lovely spouse and I share an Amazon account. We don’t normally share online accounts, but sharing one with Amazon makes life simpler because we can share the free two-day shipping to our address. And so when I didn’t add the Nikola Vučević jersey to my shopping cart, I discovered something was already in the cart: a beautiful Ice Bear Believes in You T-shirt, size men’s large.

We are fortunately not even close to poor, much less as tragically poor as the young couple depicted in “The Gift of the Magi,” but with her finishing up a career-change master’s degree, we don’t always have immediate funds for purchases, no matter how awesome.

And so I figured she was waiting until her next paycheck to buy the shirt. I also figured she was buying it as a gift for our lovely nephew, a fellow We Bare Bears fan. And so I thought it would be an excellent time for a gift – not only the gift for our nephew but one in a more appropriate size for the spouse herself.

But of course she was not buying it for our nephew. And thus arrived in the mail a few days later:

My wife and I wearing matching "Ice Bear Believes in You" t-shirts

And so, far from Christmas 1905, I’ll adapt the words of the story’s lyrical closing to celebrate our love:

O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Ice Bear.

adapted from “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry

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