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Holiday Gifts: So What Have Americans Been Buying This Year?


HOST: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.

I'm Doug Johnson. On our special holiday show this week:

We hear music popular at this time of the year …

Report about a short story writer and his famous story …

And tell about some popular holiday gifts.

Holiday Gifts

Millions of American families will celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah next week. One part of these celebrations is giving and receiving gifts. Faith Lapidus tells us about some of the most popular gifts for young people this year.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Many American young people want electronic gifts. At the top of the list is the Apple iPod or other digital music players. These electronic devices have appeared for the first time on the National Retail Federation’s yearly list of the most popular toys.

Last year, these devices were popular with adults. But experts say their use has greatly increased among young people. The new Microsoft Xbox Three-sixty is another popular gift for young people this year. The Xbox Three-sixty is a new kind of video game player system.

Recent newspaper reports say that stores may have sold all of their supplies of the most popular toys before the holidays begin.

These include an interactive doll called “Amazing Amanda” that expresses feelings. Another is the iDog, an electronic dog that connects to a digital music player. It can lift its ears and move its head in time to the music.

Another toy that connects to a digital music player is called “Iz." This device permits its owner to create music and sound effects by moving parts of its body. Reports say that one surprise best selling toy this year is called “ChatNow.” It is two cell phones that permit communication free of charge between people within a distance of about three kilometers.

A group of college students in the state of New Jersey went to a shopping area and asked more than five hundred people about their holiday spending this year. The students were doing market research for their business class. They found that many people like to buy young people gift cards. These look like credit cards. They are worth a set amount of money that can be spent at one store.

Buying a gift card is a good way to solve the problem of what to buy someone. But gift cards have restrictions. They can lose some or all of their value unless they are used within a period of time. Business experts say gift cards earn a lot of money for stores. People often spend more money than the amount of the card. And some of the people who receive gift cards never even use them.

O. Henry

HOST: Have you ever read anything by the American writer known as O. Henry? He was the writer who first developed the short story into a recognized kind of literature. One of his best loved stories is popular during the Christmas holiday. Bob Doughty tells about his life and work.

BOB DOUGHTY: O. Henry was the name used by William Sidney Porter. He was born in Greensboro, North Carolina in eighteen sixty-two. His mother died when he was three years old. He left school at the age of fifteen to work in his uncle’s drug store. He moved to Texas five years later. He lived in the city of Austin where he got married, worked in a local bank and owned a weekly newspaper.

William Sidney Porter had bad luck in Texas. His wife became sick, their baby died and his newspaper failed. Then he was accused of stealing money from the bank where he worked. He fled to Honduras, but returned to be with his sick wife. She died in eighteen ninety-seven. Porter was sentenced to prison.

That is where he started to write. His first story was published in a national magazine in eighteen ninety-eight. After being released from prison in nineteen oh-one, Porter went to New York City. He published more stories, all under the name O. Henry. No one really knows where he got that name.

O. Henry’s first book was a short story collection called “Cabbages and Kings”. It was published in nineteen-oh-four. O. Henry published thirteen other collections of short stories. He wrote six hundred stories during his life. He wrote so quickly that he could complete about one story a week.

Porter tried to forget his past, but could not. He did not have any good friends. He began to drink too much alcohol. A second marriage failed. He died of tuberculosis in New York City in nineteen ten. He was forty-eight years old.

The stories by O. Henry are well known for their surprise endings. One of his stories takes place during the Christmas season. It is called “The Gift of the Magi” (MAY-jie). It tells how a poor young husband and wife express their love for each other at Christmas. But I will not tell you any more about it. You can hear “The Gift of the Magi” Saturday on the Special English program AMERICAN STORIES or on our Web site,

Holiday Music

HOST: Next week, Americans will celebrate three holidays. The Christian holiday Christmas is on December twenty-fifth, as always. Christians celebrate the day as the birthday of Jesus. They gather around an evergreen tree that they have placed in their homes and exchange gifts. Tradition says that Santa Claus travels to every house on the night before Christmas and leaves gifts for the children.

Many Americans also attend church, go to Christmas parties and sing holiday songs. Listen as Nat King Cole sings “The Christmas Song.”


The African-American celebration of Kwanzaa begins every year on December twenty-sixth. It is celebrated for seven days. Kwanzaa does not replace Christmas. It honors black culture, especially the importance of the family. People celebrating Kwanzaa may gather for a family meal or party and light candles. They may also play African music, like this song, from South Africa. It is performed by Dark City Sisters. It is called “Sekusile” (si-KOO-sel-lay).


This year, the Jewish holiday Hanukkah starts the night of December twenty-fifth. This eight-day holiday celebrates the Jewish people’s successful battle for religious freedom more than two thousand years ago. Jews around the world light candles and exchange gifts. They also play games and sing songs of joy. We leave you now with a popular Hanukkah song that describes one of those games – “The Dreydl Song”.


I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our special holiday program. Our show was written by Nancy Steinbach. Caty Weaver was our producer.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.