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Opinion “Little Drummer Boy,” the worst holiday song of all

NO MORE SICK DRUM SOLOS! (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Sure, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is uncomfortable on the subject of consent, “Merry Christmas/War Is Over” is saccharine and cloying, and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” is laying the groundwork for a surveillance state.

But for my money, the worst Christmas song of all is “Little Drummer Boy.”

The Little Drummer Boy is a bigger villain than the Grinch. The Grinch at least has some sort of heart-size condition and soul-gunk problem that he can blame for his lack of basic compassion. What excuse does the Little Drummer Boy have for his behavior? None.

The Little Drummer Boy is just a plain old jerk. Specifically, the kind of jerk who insists on telling us about a time he showed up at a party without a gift and made everyone there miserable by playing what he thinks was a sick drum solo.

But he cannot just tell us. Instead, he constantly interrupts his own narrative with twee drum noises so that it takes longer.

I have told people long-winded stories that reflected poorly on me, but at least I never prolonged the story with bad onomatopoeic noises (“Then I said to the cab driver HONK HONK HONK HONK hey looks like I forgot my wallet HONK HONK HONK HONK HONKETY HONK can I pay you in kind HONK HONK HONK HONK I have a book and some Forever stamps HONK HONK HONKETY HONK-A-HONK HONK would that work? HONNNNK HONK HONK HONKA HONK HONK”) This is what sets me apart from the Little Drummer Boy.

Here are the plain facts of “Little Drummer Boy”:

Come, they told me (Pa rum pum pum pum)

A new born king to see (Pa rum pum pum pum)

Our finest gifts we bring (Pa rum pum pum pum)

To lay before the king (Pa rum pum pum pum, Rum pum pum pum, Rum pum pum pum)

So to honor him (Pa rum pum pum pum)
When we come. (Pum pum pum pum Pa rum pum pum Pum pum pum pum Pa rum pum pum Pum pum pum pum Pa rum pum pum Pum pum pum pum pa rum.)

First off, are you annoyed yet?

Second off, who’s ‘they’? Who is this ‘they’ who goes up to a young boy and invites him to a stranger’s baby shower? Seems odd. Still, whoever “They” is, they make it clear that this is a gathering where gifts are expected.

But the Little Drummer Boy decides to attend anyway.

Little baby (Pa rum pum pum pum)
I am a poor boy too (Pa rum pum pum pum)

I have no gift to bring (Pa rum pum pum pum)
That’s fit to give our king (Pa rum pum pum pum, Rum pum pum pum, Rum pum pum pum)

So he showed up at the party without a gift. Fine. Totally fine. And he apologized. Also fine. And he’s right, he has nothing to give the baby that will be good.

Shall I play for you? (Pa rum pum pum pum Pa rum pum pum Pum pum pum pum)

And this is where things take a turn.

I’m at the age where you have get to attend lots of baby showers, so I have my finger on the pulse of what makes an appropriate gift for a baby. Here is a quick list that I came up with, just now, just off the top of my head:

-soft woolen socks

-soft polyester socks

-cute little bib that says ‘bless this mess(iah)’ or ‘god’s gift to humanity’ or ‘this isn’t my real dad’ or something fun like that
-stuffed fish

-swaddling clothes (you can always use more swaddling clothes even if you already have some)

-myrrh i guess but kind of weird

-frankincense i guess

-gold, i mean, if frankincense and myrrh are a go

Here’s a quick list of things that are not appropriate to give babies:

-drum music

This isn’t rocket neurosurgery. If you showed up at any other party whose theme was Give Gifts To A Baby and the gift you brought was LOUD NOISES, everyone would not nod benignly. They would say, “Please leave” and “What were you thinking?” and “That’s not an appropriate gift at all, not even a little bit, have you ever met a baby before?”

But not here.

Mary nodded (Pa rum pum pum pum)

Mary is polite to a fault, I feel. This is still not a verbal yes, though.

The ox and lamb kept time (Pa rum pum pum pum)

Great! EVEN MORE loud noises!

I played my drum for him (Pa rum pum pum pum)
I played my best for him (Pa rum pum pum pum, Rum pum pum pum, Rum pum pum pum)

Then he smiled at me (Pa rum pum pum pum)

It was probably gas.

Me and my drum

Me and my drum
Me and my drum
Me and my drum
Me and my drum (Rum pum pum pum)


If the thought were all that counted, this would be a lovely song. But the thought is not all that counts. That the thought is what counts is an erroneous premise, a get-out-of-jail-free card for terrible gifts.

“Little Drummer Boy” is a song in which a jerk tells you a story about a time he played a sick drum solo in a context in which this was totally inappropriate.

He went to a party to which he had explicitly been told to bring gifts. He did not bring a gift. Instead, he MADE LOUD DRUM NOISES to a BABY until he agitated an ox and donkey so much that they made loud noises, too. But it was fine, because he did his best, and he feels like everyone loved it.

What a [rump] (pa pa pum.)