You may not have heard of Katherine Kennicott Davies, but she wrote what I used to consider the dumbest Christmas carol of all time. “The Little Drummer Boy” (originally titled “The Carol of the Drum”), which the American woman wrote in 1941, became famous when recorded by the Trapp Family Singers of Sound of Music fame.
My opinion of this song was formed between the ages of 13 and 18, when I still knew everything. I knew the Bible records no drummer boy at the Bethlehem stable, not in any of the four gospels. That whole “ox and lamb kept time” thing? Please. And a newborn baby smiling at him? Probably just gas. Never mind that a newborn can’t focus his eyes that well. And whoever heard of lulling a baby to sleep by beating on a drum anyway? As a young mother, I’d have appreciated the gift about as much as I’d appreciate bedbugs.
Furthermore, I always thought the song annoying to sing, what with the obnoxious rumpa pum pums interrupting its storyline.
That is what I used to think.
I finally got it one Christmas in my late thirties when, as usual, I was involved with the annual Christmas banquet at Portage Alliance Church. The drama team was staging a short play I had written and the music team would perform several songs, including The Little Drummer Boy.
Our drummer that year, long past being a boy, would play a solo part. As I watched him beating his heart into the piece, I finally clued in to what the song was all about. The drummer boy had nothing else to give.
Neither did I. No gold. Certainly no frankincense or myrrh, even if I knew what those were. I couldn’t play a drum, either.
But I could write a play.
All of a sudden, the lyrics changed a bit for me. “I write my plays for him, pa rum pum pum pum. I write my best for him, pa rum pum pum pum…”
And finally, the clincher: “Then he smiled at me.” Not as an infant from a manger bed, but as my risen Lord. Smiling. At me and my little play.
The song has been one of my favorites ever since.
Last year, Winnipeg musician Sean Quigley won praise for his video, posted to YouTube, featuring a fantastic rendition of The Little Drummer Boy. Quigley’s video, shot at familiar Winnipeg locations, took full advantage of heavy snow. I find it mind-boggling that Quigley played all the instruments, sang the vocals, recorded everything and shot, directed and edited the video himself.
At only 16, Sean Quigley grasped what I had missed.
“Drummer Boy speaks to me so much,” he told media. “The whole song is a story. It’s about this boy who gets word of Jesus being born and he goes to see him and he doesn’t have anything to give him; he’s like ‘I don’t have money, I don’t have gifts to give you. But I can play my drum and that’s more than enough’.”
If you haven’t seen Quigley’s video, I encourage you to watch it soon, here. Watch the joy on his face.
What is your drum? How will you make a gift of it this Christmas?