"The Gift of the Magi" is a short story by O. Henry about a poor couple that pawns their most prized possessions to buy Christmas gifts for each other: Jim his watch to buy Della a set of combs, and Della her hair to buy Jim a chain for his watch. Even though their presents were useless without the original possessions, O. Henry suggests that their acts represent the true meaning of Christmas, saying that "of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi."
This story was been retold by the Muppets several times. The first was on the album Merry Christmas from Sesame Street and later filmed as part of Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. In this version Ernie and Bert trade in their most prized possessions at Hooper's Store so that they can afford Christmas presents for each other: Ernie his Rubber Duckie for a cigar box to hold Bert's paper clip collection, and Bert his paper clip collection for a soap dish to hold Rubber Duckie. In contrast to the original story, Mr. Hooper, realizing what is happening, returns Rubber Duckie and the paper clip collection to Ernie and Bert in the spirit of Christmas. Ernie and Bert also retold their story with Marlo Thomas on the album, Thanks & Giving All Year Long in 2004.
The concept was slightly tweaked by Russell Hoban for his 1971 book Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, which was adapted by the Muppets for a TV special in 1977. In the story, Alice Otter resolves to sell her late husband's tool chest so she can buy a dress to compete in a talent contest, while her son Emmet sacrifices his mother's means of income by turning her washtub into an instrument in order to split the winnings from the same contest. Their sacrifices seem to have been for nothing considering they both lose the talent contest, only to win the bigger prize by the most fortunate of circumstances. Reviews of the story have made the Magi comparison since the 1970s.
In 1996, The Gift of the Magi Story Book Set & Advent Calendar retold the story with Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy in the lead roles. The 1999 book A Very Muppet Christmas told another version of the story with Kermit and Piggy, called "The Thrift of the Magi".
In It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, three pairs of best friends (Gonzo and Rizzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker, and Johnny Fiama and Sal Minella) exchange presents at The Muppet Theatre's Christmas party in comic vignettes that echo "The Gift of the Magi."