Little Drummer Boy is one of the most recognizable Christmas songs in modern culture. It speaks to the heart of what Christmas is about. The heart of what it really means to be human. I didn’t really give this song its due for a long time. I thought it was about drums. It isn’t.
When I was a kid, I thought the part that went “pa rum pum pum pum” was some sort of language. I thought it was saying something I did not understand. At some point, I realized it was the sound of the drum. But recently I have gone back to my original interpretation. Those words are more than the sound of the drum. There is a reason the lyrics use words to represent the sound rather than just the noise of a drum beating. The song is not about a drum.
Reason for Season
The song “Little Drummer Boy” is a song about a boy who realizes that although he does not have anything of value, he is valuable. He realizes this in the presence of a baby. Jesus. The Savior of the world wrapped in swaddling clothes. The drummer does his best. But the drum is a metaphor.
The boy is approaching the manger, following the good news, looking for a gift to bring to the newborn Christ. But he has nothing of substance to give.
In the absence of anything that makes sense, he decides to “play his drum”. The Little Drummer Boy plays in tranquility, a step away from silence. The song is slow, contemplative.
Me and my drum.
Almost like a heartbeat.
I think the reason the song resonates with us is because we are all searching for exactly what the Drummer Boy is searching for. We are looking for a gift to share. For something that makes us who we are. Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum.
But we are not our gifts. We are the presence we bring into a room. The greatest gifts brought to Jesus in the manger were not gold, frankincense, or myrrh. It was the presence of witnesses. The people. The heartbeats.
Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum.
The song Little Drummer Boy is about humbly offering all we are, living out of the simple joy of our simple gifts, and understanding that we were meant to play not just for ourselves but for our King.
Finding the Drum
The problem for most of us is we don’t know what our “drum” is.
Here is the fascinating thing: the Drummer Boy doesn’t seem to get it either. He says he has “no gift to bring”. All he can offer is the heartbeat of his instrument: pa rum pum pum pum.
The same is true for us. Our “drum” is not what we are good at. The Drummer Boy does not blow them away with a concerto. He just “plays”, that simply melodic tune. It is gibberish and confusing, yet somehow it is right and true. The way that music is. Mary nods, the animals keep time. It is a subtle magic but nobody is on their feet waving their hands in the air in ecstasy.
Your “drum” is not your intellect or your good looks or the way you throw a curveball. It is not your wit or your writing or the way you make money. It includes all these things. But it is also more. Indescribably more.
Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum.
Mess and all, confusion and all – you are who you are. Your drum is you, the very essence of a unique human. On this earth in search of the right tune. Trying to play your instrument well. Trying to find an audience worth playing for, who will accept and appreciate your playing for the mystery it is.
To what beat do you drum? How do you drum? For whom? These are not idle questions. They are not hypothetical. They are the very reason you are alive.
Pa rum pum pum pum.