I’m a huge fan of Rankin and Bass stop motion specials, but one really stood out for me – The Little Drummer Boy from 1968. I have several memories of sitting cross-legged in front of our family television watching it and trying to put it in perspective with the lessons I was learning about Christmas in CCD and at school. And, to be honest, through society.
Essentially, this is the “backstory” to the famous carol – the little drummer boy is named Aaron and has been cruelly mistreated by almost everyone. He ends up in the caravan of the Wise Men to welcome the Baby Jesus without understanding what their goal means. When his friend, a lamb, is injured he rushes to ask the kings for help and has a life changing encounter with the Baby Jesus as the title song is performed by the Vienna Boys Choir. Of course, the lamb is healed and Aaron is also healed.
I remember this made me cry with each viewing. I felt sad for Aaron and distraught about his little sheep being injured. And I was puzzled because every year Christmas (especially church services) *felt* special, but nothing seemed to be healed or changed. At least from the perspective of a 8 year old. And I was struggling to reconcile the message of giving a simple gift with my increasing exposure to commercialized Christmas – without being aware of that struggle. I just felt like it shouldn’t always have to be so sad. But it always was.
Any version of this song brings images of this television special to mind – especially little Aaron carrying his lamb.
On another note, I do remember that this Rankin and Bass show blurred the lines between make believe and reality a little too much. Previous shows about Easter and Santa had an “old-timey” feel with Germanic names and attire – but that made sense because it was clearly make believe. As a child, I was taught to believe that the Nativity story was real. I was a believer and simply thought the whole Bible was true – mostly because my mother believed. So watching what I believed to be a real story infused into a make believe story was confusing. Others shared my discomfort.
My post-script is when I grew up and learned about this version of the song – Bing Crosby and David Bowie.