Not many things make me cry. Boys don’t cry after all. When I was a toddler, of course, but you learn after a while … So in real life, generally no. But songs and movies – art can make me cry as reality can’t. When the frozen people come back to life in Awakenings, having lost so many years to Parkinson’s, that made me cry. Interesting that it should be the awakening that gets me going rather than the suffering that preceded it.
It is with crying perhaps like revolutions. It’s at the moment of reform that people see the waste and suffering that has gone before, and they revolt – or cry.
Are crying and revolution just too different sorts of responses to the same thing?
But I am here to talk about The Little Drummer Boy. It’s associated with something that isn’t my holiday, but it’s a nice holiday. I don’t mind it. Not like Easter, full of death and passion, transmuted in centuries past into revenge upon my people. Which is odd in a way because it’s done in the name of a member of my people. But that’s another story.
Christmas is a friendly holiday, full of tidings of joy, and very nice Christmas carols. Growing up in a Christian country, even if you’re not a Christian, it’s impossible not to hear the Christmas carols. In fact, I even sang Christmas carols: in our school, our Protestant school, which is where little Jewish children would go in my day (it’s a long story). We sang Hark the Herald Angels and Silent Night and Little Town of Bethlehem. Very nice songs. Not like the modern commercial stuff.
The Little Drummer Boy I don’t think was one of those we sang in school. It’s not actually a traditional carol; it’s from 1941. But it has the air of a carol, though in fact it hardly seems to be about Christmas at all. Yes, the baby Jesus is in it, but almost as a secondary character. As its title indicates, the song is really about The Little Drummer Boy, a poor boy who seems to think of himself as inadequate, who thinks he has no gift to offer to the newborn King. But he’s urged to go along anyway; if he has no gift, then he can play his drum.
I envisage the whole scene, the little drummer boy feeling bad, saying, “I can’t go. I have nothing to bring.” But hesitantly and more confidently, after Mary nods at him and the animals help him out, he goes on. Does what he can – and the baby smiles at him. It’s all worthwhile, it all works out, he offers the talent he has, and it’s accepted. It makes me cry. Cry for a world where people are accepted for what they are, for what they have to offer, and not judged for their shortcomings.
My girl-friend says this is the message of Christianity, but I don’t see it in a Christian guise. It’s a story about being allowed to do what you do. Even if you can’t throw the touchdown pass or run the big company, that’s all right. Everyone has their own talent, and if only they can get a chance to use it …
Anyway, it’s a nice song, a haunting song, and it always brings tears to my eyes.
Here’s a nice version of it: