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The fourth classic Christmas Special on TIME’s list of the “10 Greatest” is “The Little Drummer Boy.” There are a couple other fun songs from the special, but I want to do Jars of Clay’s cover of The Song Itself. Theirs is by far the best version I’ve ever heard. (Those boys once knew how to play acoustic guitars. Maybe they still do. But they definitely did when they put out this EP.)
The credits that play during the special say the music is by Maury Laws, with Jules Bass (he of Rankin-Bass fame) writing the lyrics. (Bass is still alive, evidently! I don’t know why this surprises me so much.)
The Main Song, however, is from 1941 and was written by Katherine Kennicott Davis. She claimed to have based it on a Czech carol, which no one has been able to identify. Cooler still, it was the von Trapp Family Singers who first popularized it.
The theme of the song is “gifts,” which — believe it or not — have become an important philosophical topic. What I want to talk about, however, is the theory of a psychologist.
Gary Chapman (not the singer) argues that you can tell a person you love her or him all you want, but the person won’t hear it — won’t actually feel loved — unless you are speaking that person’s “love language.”
There are five love languages, Chapman says: “Words of Affirmation” is the most obvious (e.g., saying, “I love you,” or “You’re the best“). However, “The Little Drummer Boy” also mentions as second: “Acts of Service.” Some people will only experience themselves as being actually loved by you if you do things for them (see the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night”).
Then again, Chapman also recognizes “Gifts” as a love language of its own. Some people, evidently, will only feel loved by you if you give them things (see our discussion of the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine,” in contrast with “Can’t Buy Me Love”). Some people, however, won’t feel your love if you put it into words, or into deeds, or into gifts. What they need is “Quality Time” from you (see “A Hard Day’s Night” again). And for still other people, none of that matters nearly as much as “Physical Touch” (see “A Hard Day’s Night” yet again, and our discussion of “I Want to Hold Your Hand”).
So, in “The Little Drummer Boy,” what is Baby Jesus’ love language?
The Hidden Track
Q: What kind of philosophy were we doing today?
A: Ethics, believe it or not.
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