Taps, the Little Drummer Boy
Written by Rev. April H. Cranford Edited by Michelle Layer Rahal
Remember when the temperatures remained well below zero for a full two months? Everyone stayed inside their homes, isolated from family, friends, and neighbors. Due to the frigid temperatures, businesses and restaurants closed. School buildings closed as well. Teachers sent their students class assignments in the mail and on the computer for children to complete at home. Everyone lived in a time of freezing uncertainty. No one knew when the cold season would come to an end.
Most families complained about the chaos, however one family viewed the situation as a gift. This large family of seven (two parents, four children, and a grandfather), lived in a little house on the edge of town. As was their custom, they ate dinner together by returning thanks for the meal and passing dishes filled with their favorite foods. After dinner, the family remained at the table for hours brainstorming all the activities they could enjoy inside their home with the time they had been given.
The children were the first to suggest that afternoons might be better spent playing board games or card games rather than doing homework. Their parents listened attentively to their reasoning but didn’t bless their idea. Then Father shared his suggestion. “Why don’t we use this time to refine our individual skills and talents?”
The children's facial expressions changed from joy to sadness, for this idea sounded much more like home-work than fun.
Before the children could complain, Mother declared with excitement, “What a wonderful idea! I could use this time to improve my sewing and drawing.”
Father was encouraged by his wife's enthusiasm, so he declared his desire. “You know, I’ve always wanted to learn a new language.”
Encouraged, the children began to come up with ideas of their own. One-by-one, beginning with the oldest, they began naming the skills they wanted to pursue. When it was the youngest child’s turn to speak, he remained quiet—not because he didn’t want to participate, but because he did not know what the word 'skill' meant. With all eyes on him, he suddenly blurted out, “I’ll learn one if someone helps me.”
Grandfather was the first to respond. “I will help you,” he said. “I will teach you how to play the drums, and this will help me to improve my teaching skills!” And so it was settled. As the winds and freezing temperatures swirled about, this large family in the little house on the edge of town hunkered down and practiced to improve the skills that they had each been gifted with.
Grandfather and grandson sat together for hours working on different drumbeats and rhythms. At first, no one was thrilled with the musical reverberations echoing through the house, but as the child’s skill improved, everyone started skipping to the beat of the little white drum.
Eventually winter turned to spring and temperatures began to rise. People ventured outside once again—even the little boy. However, whenever the little boy went outside, he carried his drum with him, hanging from his neck by a leather strap. As he walked, he’d tap on his drum while his footsteps kept the beat. Soon, loved ones, neighbors, and even strangers began calling the young boy, "Taps."
Spring turned into summer, and summer turned into fall. The little boy grew in stature and ability, bringing joy wherever he went. And who knows what kind of virtuoso he might have become had “the tragedy” not ripped through his town one cold October night.
In the chaos, each family member had only enough time to grab whatever they could hold as they escaped their home. Mother tucked her favorite art supplies into her scarf and left her sewing machine behind. Father grabbed his journal covered in notes and stories written in the language he had been learning. Like their parents, each child chose an item that was special to them.
Taps, was able to grab his drum in one hand and his drumsticks in the other. Unfortunately, due to the chaos of the day, the grandfather was separated from the family. So, the large family of seven was now a family of six.
The town was destroyed, and all its people were left homeless. Father, Mother, and the children were forced to look for shelter in a distant land where no one spoke their language. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, they settled into a large facility with rooms stacked beside and on top of each other. The family had to rely on the kindness of these strangers to survive. They received just enough food to get them through each day, and they all took classes on how to call this new place home.
As the cold months arrived in the new land, the family remembered the previous year when life felt uncertain. Although the situation was quite different, the large family once again chose to view the circumstance as a gift rather than a hindrance. After all, they were safe. They used their time to play games together in the afternoon and improve their individual skills.
On the first of December, the family of six moved into a beautiful home where kind strangers from a church welcomed them. As the family adjusted to their new home, they saw the church people rushing from building to building preparing for a special event called a pageant. The family had not heard of a pageant before, but soon learned that it occurred at this time every year. Instead of reading from a book, children acted out the story of a holy child's birth. The children in the family wondered if this pageant included balloons and cake like their birthday celebrations back home.
The family watched as excitement for the pageant grew. Costumes were made for all the children: there was a pregnant girl, flying angels, stinky shepherds, several barnyard animals, and three smart men. It seemed like everyone was invited to celebrate the birth of this child: human, divine, poor, and wise. These wise beings in particular intrigued Taps because, like him, they were from a land far away. He wondered why the wisest of guys traveled so far to attend a party for a strange God baby they did not know.
The pageant came and went. The kind church people told the family all about the great night, though no one had bothered to invite them to the event. The family listened intently and pondered all they heard in their hearts.
After the pageant, there was another special event to prepare for. The church people called it "Christmas caroling." The family learned that caroling was when people of all ages walked through the neighborhood singing songs of joy at neighbor’s homes. Again, the family wondered if cake and balloons would be included in the celebration.
The singing tour came and went, without any songs being sung on the family’s front yard. Still, the family considered all they had heard about Christmas caroling and pondered the words of the music in their hearts.
As the last days of December drew near, the family saw the kind strangers busily preparing for the final special event, which they soon learned was called a candlelight service. This night was to include families of all sizes singing songs, listening to the child’s birth story, and lighting candles. The family again wondered if cake and balloons were part of the celebration. To Taps, the candlelight service sounded like a magical event, and he wondered if he might sneak a peak at the candlelight service when no one was watching.
One night at dinner, while passing around their favorite dishes, Mother said; "This must be an important child for these kind strangers to spend an entire month preparing and celebrating his birth." Everyone nodded in agreement, but no one considered attending the event. They hadn’t been invited.
On Christmas eve, Taps watched out the window of his bedroom and saw many of the kind church people going in and out of the large red building. His curiosity got the better of him and he decided to sneak over to take a peek inside. He waited until the coast was clear, then he ran to the church, opened the brown doors and walked into the grand room, It was empty of people but full of benches. In the middle of the room lay a strip of red fabric that looked like a fruit roll-up. As he walked down the red strip, suddenly, the room swelled with music. Startled, he jumped under a bench to hide.
Taps listened intently as the music filled him with a sense of wonder and peace. He peeked over the bench to see where the sounds were emanating from, but the room was empty. Taps felt as if he were inside the music box he lost many years earlier when he had to escape the tragedy, and a wave of sadness washed over him. Taps laid down on the brown bench and fell asleep as tears fell from his eyes and Christmas carols played in the background of his dreams. Little did he know that sitting behind the white wall was a kind woman playing an instrument called an organ.
Some time later, Taps awoke to new musical sounds. Though he couldn’t identify the instruments, there was a piano, a flute, a violin, and a guitar, with a group of cool teenagers singing songs together—and one of the songs was about a drum! Taps listened with longing but remained hidden.
After everyone left the building, Taps pondered all he had heard in his heart. He wanted to return that evening and attend the last event of the child's birthday celebration. He really wanted to meet this birthday child, but he did not have time to make a cake, nor did he have money to buy a balloon. What could he bring? Then he remembered his drum. That’s it, he would bring his drum to the musical box building.
Taps jumped down from the bench, ran down the red strip of fabric, into his house, and up the stairs to his bedroom. He practiced all afternoon the song he had heard the teenagers singing earlier that day.
As the sun set and the stars appeared bright in the evening sky, small and large families began entering the large red building lit with candles and filled with beautiful music. After everyone was inside, Taps slung the leather strap of his drum over his shoulder, grabbed his two sticks, and ran across the yard. He snuck in the same doors he used earlier in the day. Since all the benches were full of strangers, Taps snuck up the stairs to the balcony. He looked everywhere for the child who was being celebrated, but he saw no one.
Peering over the railing, Taps listened to the songs, taking in each word and the story they told about a holy child’s birth. He then realized that this holy child, born long ago, remained fully present in the lives of humans to this day. This was a strange yet hopeful concept, and Taps pondered it in his heart. Suddenly, he felt a warm glow all around—a feeling of peace and acceptance and love. It was stronger than anything he had ever felt before, and Taps knew without a doubt that the holy child had lodged in his heart.
Just then, the teenagers began singing their song about the drum. Taps grabbed his drum and drumsticks and rushed down the stairs. When he reached the beginning of the red strip of fabric, he slowed his pace and began tapping, ever so softly, on his little white drum. As the drum kept beat, the teenagers seemed to sing with renewed joy, “Come, they told him!”
For the first time since he arrived, Taps felt the people around him were no longer strangers and more than kind friends. They were his family, helping him call a new place home. And like the wisemen in the pageant who did not know the Hebrew God but felt welcomed by him, Taps felt the acceptance and love of the holy child whose name was Jesus, Emmanuel – God with us.
That night, Taps discovered why kind strangers who were called “the church” spent so much time and energy celebrating a holy child’s birth. For this child does not expect gifts of cakes, balloons, or even common beliefs. This child was and is named savior, because he saves with an everlasting love and welcomes all people, even strangers (outsiders) like him, who come with nothing, tapping a beat on their little white drum.