Lesson in the Lyrics: Why The Little Drummer Boy Matters

Christmas carols have emerged from eleven months of hibernation, filling the air with a mountain of merriment…and, perhaps, a touch of annoyance (I’m looking at you 12 Days of Christmas!) One song which brings mixed reviews is The Little Drummer Boy. The criticisms of the song tend to flux between attempts at humor (playing drums for a newborn is a terrible gift!) and discomfort with the repetitive nature of “pa-rum pum pum pum.” Heck, I’m thinking someone just read “pa-rum pum pum pum and started twitching. Both critiques have some merit and I would never dismiss the subjective nature of music. To be candid, however, I am a bit biased on this particular topic as The Little Drummer boy was one of my favorite Christmas carols growing up. It was also a favorite stop motion Christmas special produced by Rankin/Bass Productions. I have grown fonder of the song as I’ve aged, and not just because of Bob Seger’s rendition!

Am I Good Enough?

The first stanza sets the scene, complete with the “finest gifts” being brought to “lay before the King.” Tension arises in the second stanza as the little drummer boy confesses to being “a poor boy too” and having no gifts “that’s fit to give” to the baby before him. Pain and embarrassment coalesce in those lines as the little drummer boy feels inadequate when looking at the other gifts that have been offered. Comparison can often be a terrible weapon we wield against ourselves. The boy seems momentarily paralyzed by the fact he has nothing of material worth to offer. How tragic that material lack can foster a belief in lacking personal self-worth. Beyond the song, does this moment cause some discomfort to the listener because of personal identification? Have you ever felt saddened or small because of the gifts you could and could not offer loved ones? Joy and self-incrimination can not exist simultaneously.

Yes You Are.

The pain of having no gift leads the little drummer boy to ask the plaintive question, “Shall I play for you…on my drum?” I hear fear in that question for what if the answer is no? What if that which I truly have, my talents which, in this case, rise from the drummer boy’s artistic soul, aren’t welcome here? Then what? Mary, thankfully, nods approvingly. Nature acknowledges the magic of the moment as “The Ox and Lamb kept time.” Can you remember an occasion when time slowed and all seemed to be right in your world? Is one gracious, open hearted response like Mary’s all it takes to make that happen?

Buoyed by Mary’s acceptance the little drummer boy played his drum and played it his best, causing the child to smile. Yes, little drummer boy, you and your gifts were most welcome in the manger. The selfless sharing of your talents, your core being, bringing joy in ways the “finest gifts” could not.

A Final Note (See what I did there? Very clever!)

The gifts we carry in our arms often pale in comparison to those carried in our hearts. The friends and family who warm our hearts by simply entering our homes. The smiles and stories we share deepen ties and enliven spirits. So this holiday season share the music of your soul and enjoy the wonder it brings those around you. Pa-rum pum pum pum.

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