The Common Good

What Are You Singing: The Little Drummer Boy

“The Little Drummer Boy” tells a wonderful short story of a poor boy who feels he has no gift to give to the baby Jesus. In spite of his lack of gifts, he offers to play his drum for him, to the delight of all in the stable, especially baby Jesus, who smiles at the drummer boy.

Photo: Drum, © Winston Link /
Photo: Drum, © Winston Link /

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Not only is this song fun to sing with its drum-like “pa-rum-pum-pum-pums,” but also it embraces a non-materialistic message that we all need to hear, especially this time of year. In a society of hyper-commercialized Christmas, where we are bombarded with advertisements filled with the pressure to find the perfect gift, “The Little Drummer Boy” challenges this societal expectation. Perhaps the perfect gift is really just ourselves, being who we are, bringing our own gifts and talents to each other and to a world in deep need of healing. 

While the boy is poor and feels like he has nothing to offer, he has a drum and plays for those gathered at the stable — and they are pleased. While our society pressures us to perform, to prove our love and appreciation for someone, it is actually the simple sharing of life, being together with family and friends around good food and drink — and maybe even dance and sing (with a drum!) — that is what we truly need or want around Christmas time. I know this is true for me.

This gift model that “The Little Drummer Boy” offers reminds me of one of my own family traditions. Every year at the beginning of Advent, my family writes all our family members’ names on little slips of paper, and we each draw one out of a hat. The person we pick is who we will pray for during Advent. Out of that reflection and intentionality, we give a creative homemade gift to that person. The thoughtful composition of a poem, letter, song, artwork, or baked goods (or whatever) from a family member is always the most meaningful part of Christmas. 

Through this tradition, we release that societal pressure on our family to spend hours in busy retail stores trying to drop $20 or more for just an OK present. Instead, we stretch ourselves to be intentional and true to ourselves, and, like the drummer boy, bring our gifts and show appreciation for each other.

The humble and sincere demeanor that the drummer boy comes to Jesus is what we are all called to come to God with as well. God does not judge; God does not care if you don’t have a material gift to give. God wants you to be who you are and offer your individual talents to bring compassion, justice, and peace to our world. 

I hope this Christmas we will be inspired by this story of The Little Drummer Boy and understand that no matter who we are or what we have, we all have a place in this work. Our own talents and gifts are enough. Now we just have to recognize them in each other and celebrate each other’s’ offerings.

Martin Witchger is Mobilizing Assistant for Sojourners.

Photo: Drum, © Winston Link | View Portfolio /

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