Advent and Offerings

I’ve never liked the song “The Little Drummer Boy.” The tune isn’t bad–I actually find the repetitive melody rather soothing–but the off-key “ching ching” of a triangle at the end of every phrase is jarring. (Who decided the triangle was acceptable punctuation for symphonies and orchestras, anyway?)

And then there’s the lyrics: the story of the kid who plays a drum for baby Jesus. I always envisioned a little boy with a snare drum strapped to his chest a la marching band: rat-a-tat-a-tat-tat. Let’s face it: drums are not solo instruments. But even if he was lugging timpanis (the classy member of the drum family) to the stable, the resultant sound would still be a far cry short of a lullaby.

What a joke. A drum solo for baby Jesus; honestly.

I’ve been doing my best to observe Advent this year. I love the Mormon and family traditions I’ve been raised with, but discovering the liturgical calendar has been a game-changer for me. I’ve found myself trying to inhabit the mindset of the people in the centuries before Christ’s coming: yearning and praying for an event they hoped, but could not know, would come.

The decor in my house completely changes over each December (or late November, if I’m honest). Poinsettias flank the fireplace, furniture is rearranged to accommodate the tree, and the exterior of the house is festooned with wreaths and lights. During the lead up to Christmas, we make special cookies, drink seasonal beverages, listen to Christmas music, deliver treats to friends, and observe traditions of sleigh rides and visits to see Santa. Much of our thoughts are centered on gifts and giving. This month, everything–from the media we consume to the food we eat to our daily errands and routines–is affected by our anticipation of Christmas.

The spirit of Advent for us in the liminal space between Christ’s birth and his second coming manifests in this anticipation for Christmas day–for Christ to be born in us. We are each Mary, pregnant with the son of God, waiting and hoping for him to be made incarnate in our lives.

The other night, I drove by myself through my neighborhood. I felt a lump form in my throat as I passed house after house with lights–big and small, white and colored, bright and muted–draped over branches and dripping off eaves. A big motivation for seasonal decor is just the novelty of it, I know, but these lights are a testament to a Great Something that occurred long ago and is now lodged in our collective cultural consciousness. There is something in each point of light that points to the Light of the world.

I take down my Christmas decorations the first couple weeks in January. As much as I love it, if I left my tree up all year, its presence would become more ordinary and less significant to me. Still, there is something powerful in this annual ritual of moving the furniture to make room for the Christ child.

Playing a drum for an infant is, perhaps, an absurd gift. But then I think about how little any of us have to offer the Savior; about how my small offerings are really nothing more than pitiful noise in the vast scheme of things. My attempts to follow Christ are at times grating or useless (rat-a-tat-a-tat-tat), but they are earnest. And, really, it’s all I have to offer.

It is enough.

ElleK is a foodie, gardener, and writer. Women’s issues in the church are not a pebble in her shoe; they are a boulder on her chest.


  1. Love this piece on making room for Christ at Christmas. How wonderful a gift was given to us that day and a much more precious one at the resurrection. I do have to disagree on the song “The Little Drummer Boy” long before I had children or was a member of the Church, I loved that tune. The only gift the little boy had was his song for the Christ child, a gift from his heart. Later when my son was picking an instrument to learn to play, he choose the drum. He became my little drummer boy and I cherished the song even more. Thank you again for your reflection.

  2. Thoughtful reflection. I too share the inability to find my gifts to the Lord of any consequence. Having said that, all we can really give that is ours to give is the will to serve Him…our hearts. Our actions can be the gift…the very thing he would do if he were still here.

    • That reminds me of the last stanza of Christina Rossetti’s beautiful “In the Bleak Midwinter”:

      What can I give him, poor as I am?
      If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
      If I were a wise man, I would do my part.
      Yet, what I can, I give him: give my heart.

  3. I remember reading the ezra keats board book of this song to my toddler and preschooler while I was hugely pregnant and being moved to tears. it was the first time I ‘got’ this song. I felt that I had nothing left to give and came to the same conclusion you did here. now I really like it

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