At this early point in December it seems like I have been hearing Christmas music for weeks. Oh, I have! It starts before Thanksgiving, I believe. I might have heard Andy Williams’ rendition of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” 37 times already. Actually, I like that one. There are others like George Michael’s “Last Christmas” or Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” that I wouldn’t miss if they were never played again. Toss “Santa Baby” on that pile too. I appreciate songs that capture the feeling and essence of Christmas—especially those that share the true meaning of Christmas that we understand as believers. Some songs are based on fictitious characters, like Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch or the Miser Brothers. Those songs do not normally share a message about Christ or the Gospel. There is one song based on a fictitious character that does.
In 1941 Katherine K. Davis, under the pseudonym C.R.W. Robertson, wrote and published “Carol of the Drum.” Although there is a traditional Czech carol by that name, the head of the music department at Wellesley College (her alma mater) said that was not the inspiration for her song. It was instead inspired by a French carol, “Patapan.” It was recorded first by the Trapp Family Singers (who would later be popularized in “The Sound of Music”) in 1951, and later recorded by the Jack Halloran Singers in 1957. In 1958 it was recorded by the Harry Simeone Chorale after a slight change in arrangement, renaming it to “The Little Drummer Boy.”
The lyrics tell the story of a young boy led to see the newborn King in the manger. He learns that those leading him are bringing their finest gifts to present to the baby. He is poor and has no valuable worldly gifts to offer, so he simply offers to play his drum. Mary allows him to play, and he plays his best. The song ends with the baby Jesus smiling in approval.
The accounts we have of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke do not mention a poor boy with a drum. Songs sometimes do not capture Scripture completely accurately. The three wise men, or more accurately, probably astrologers, are understood to be kings in songs like “We Three Kings.” It, “We Saw Three Ships,” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” were written to recognize the Epiphany, a day established in the church calendar to commemorate the day that the wise men were led to see Jesus. The twelve days of Christmas begin on Christmas day, and go to January 5th or 6th (the Epiphany), depending on which churches’ counting you adopt. Neither the observance or the date of the Epiphany is indicated in Scripture, and are the result of churches creating a liturgical calendar.
In recent years I have learned to appreciate “The Little Drummer Boy” more, especially in view of some of the creative license taken in some of the other Christmas songs and carols. Maybe I am mellowing with age. At the very least the song promotes solid Biblical teaching. Two teachings from Jesus immediately come to mind in considering the drummer boy.
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)
The boy in the song came to see Jesus in openness and honesty, to see and honor Him. Yet the fact that he was poor did not keep him from giving what he could. He could play his drum. This reminds me of another teaching from Jesus. In teaching His disciples about the offering of a widow, He said:
“And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:43-44)
The wise men and others undoubtedly brought Jesus gifts that had been expensive to buy and had great monetary value. Although the drummer boy had nothing comparable he gave all he had– himself and his talent for playing the drum.
Sometimes I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, worrying about appropriate gifts to give people who are close to me. We like to honor and please those we love. Treating our family and friends well in every way is indeed Biblical instruction. We like to be charitable at Christmas, attempting to follow God’s example. What can we possibly give God, who has given us His Son, and all we have to live for? Like the little drummer boy, ourselves and our talents. Thank you for the lesson in your song, Ms. Davis.
Take heart and be encouraged!