I read this story when I was in high school and have always remembered it; going back to it many times.
The truth is so simple yet so easy to forget!
Its the story of a frontier pastor's wife's very special Christmas when her faith was put to the test.
Would you take a moment and read it; I pray that you will get as big a blessing as I did!
Christmas time on the frontier
I remember a day during one winter that stands out like a boulder in my life. The weather was unusually cold, our salary had not been regularly paid, and it did not meet our needs when it was. My husband was away traveling from one district to another much of the time. Our boys were well, but my little Ruth was ailing, and at best none of us were decently clothed. I patched and repaired, with spirits sinking to the lowest ebb. The water gave out in the well, and the wind blew through the cracks in the floor.
The people in the parish were kind, and generous, too, but the settlement was new, and each family was struggling for itself. Little by little, at the time I needed it most, my faith began to waver. Early in life I was taught to take God at His Word, and I thought my lesson was well learned. I had lived upon the promise in dark times, until I knew, as David did, “who was my Fortress and Deliverer.” Now a daily prayer for forgiveness was all that I can offer.
My husband’s overcoat was hardly thick enough for October, and he was often obliged to ride miles to attend some meeting or funeral. Many times our breakfast was Indian cake and a cup of tea without sugar. Christmas was coming; the children always expected their presents. I remember the ice was thick and smooth, and the boys were each craving a pair of skates. Ruth, in some unaccountable way, had taken a fancy that the dolls I had made were no longer suitable; she wanted a nice large one, and insisted on praying for it. I knew it was impossible; but, oh! How I wanted to give each child it’s present! It seemed as if God had deserted us, but I did not tell my husband all this. He worked so earnestly and heartily, I supposed him to be as hopeful as ever. I kept the sitting-room cheerful with an open fire, and I tried to serve our scanty meals as invitingly as I could.
The morning before Christmas, James was called to see a sick man. I put up a piece of bread for his lunch-it was the best I could do – wrapped my plaid shawl around his neck and then to whisper a promise, as I often had, but the words died away upon my lips. I let him go without it. That was a dark, hopeless day. I coaxed the children to bed early, for I could not bear their talk. When Ruth went, I listened to her prayer; she asked for the last time most explicitly for her doll, and skates for her brothers. Her bright face looked so lovely when she whispered to me, “You know, I think they’ll be here early tomorrow morning, Mamma,” that I thought I could move heaven and earth to save her from disappointment. I sat down alone, and gave way to the most bitter tears.
Before long James returned, chilled and exhausted. He drew off his boots; the thin stockings clipped off with them, and his feet were red with cold. “I wouldn't treat a dog that way; let alone a faithful servant,” I said. Then, as I glanced up and saw the hard lines in his face and the look of despair, it flashed across me that James had let go, too. I brought him a cup of tea, feeling sick and dizzy at the very thought. He took my hand, and we sat for an hour without a word. I wanted to die and meet God, and tell Him His promise wasn't true; my soul was so full of rebellious despair.
There came a sound of bells, a quick stop and a loud knock at the door. James sprang up to open it. There stood Deacon White. “A box came for you by express just before dark. I brought it around as soon as I could get away. Reckoned it might be for Christmas; ‘At any rate,’ I said, ‘they shall have it tonight.’ Here is a turkey my wife asked me to fetch along, and these other things I believe belong to you.” There was a basket of potatoes and a bag of flour. Talking all the time, he hurried in the box, and then with a hearty good night rode away.
Still, without speaking, James found a chisel and opened the box. He drew out first a thick red blanket, and we saw that beneath it was full of clothing. It seemed at that moment as if Christ fastened upon me a look of reproach. James sat down and covered his face with his hands. "I can't touch them," he explained. "I haven't been true, just when God was trying me to see if I could hold out. Do you think I could not see how you were suffering? And I had no word of comfort to offer. I know now how to preach the awfulness of turning away from God."
"James," I said, clinging to him, "don't take it to heart like this; I am to blame, I ought to have helped you. We will ask Him together to forgive us."
"Wait a moment, dear, I cannot talk now." Then he went into another room. I knelt down, and my heart broke; in an instant all the darkness, all the stubbornness rolled away. Jesus came again and stood before me, but now with the loving word, "Daughter!" Sweet promises of tenderness and joy flooded my soul. I was so lost in praise and gratitude that I forgot everything else. I don't know how long it was before James came back, but I knew he, too, had found peace.
"Now, my dear wife," said he, "let us thank God together"; and then he poured out words of praise - Bible words, for nothing else could express our thanksgiving.
It was eleven o'clock, the fire was low, and there was the great box, and nothing touched but the warm blanket we needed. We piled on some fresh logs, lighted two candles, and began to examine our treasures. We drew out an overcoat; I made James try it on - just the right size - and I danced around him, for all my lightheartedness had returned. Then there was a cloak, and he insisted on seeing me in it. My spirits always infected him and we both laughed like foolish children. There was a warm suit of clothes also, and three pairs of woolen hose. There were a dress for me, and yards of flannel, a pair of arctic overshoes for each of us, and in mine a slip of paper. I have it now, and mean to hand it down to my children. It was Jacob's blessing to Asher: "Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be." In the gloves for James, the same dear hand had written: "I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee." It was a wonderful box and packed with thoughtful care. There was a suit of clothes for each of the boys and a little red gown for Ruth. There were mittens, scarfs, and hoods; down in the center - a box. We opened it, and there was a great wax doll!
I burst into tears again; James wept with me for joy. It was too much; and then we both exclaimed again, for close behind it came two pairs of skates. There were books for us to read - some of them I had wished to see - stories for the children to read, aprons and underclothing, knots of ribbon, a gay little tidy, a lovely photograph, needles, buttons, and thread; actually a muff, and an envelope containing a ten-dollar gold piece. At last we cried over everything we took up. It was past midnight, and we were faint and exhausted even with happiness. I made a cup of tea, cut a fresh loaf of bread, and James boiled some eggs. We drew up the table before the fire; how we enjoyed our supper! And then we sat talking over our life, and how sure a help God always proved.
You should have seen the children the next morning; the boys raised a shout at the sight of their skates. Ruth caught up her doll, and hugged it tightly without a word; then she went into her room and knelt by her bed. When she came back she whispered to me, "I knew it would be here, Mamma, but I wanted to thank God just the same, you know."
"Look here, wife, see the difference!" We went to the window and there were the boys out of the house already, and skating on the crust with all their might.
My husband and I both tried to return thanks to the church in the East that sent us the box, and have tried to return thanks unto God every day since.
Hard times have come again and again, but we have trusted in Him - dreading nothing so much as a doubt of His protecting care. "They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing."
(Just on a side note, the blessing given to Asher was from Moses in Deut. 33:25)
"...your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him." Matt. 6:8
Isn't our God good?!
Merry Christmas everyone!
I grew up watching the animated cartoon but never knew anything about the song that made it all possible.
I learned some interesting things about the author and the song; I hope you enjoy the story and just in case you would like to hear it after reading about it, I included the song below song by the Vienna Boys Choir!
The little drummer boy
Katherine Davis lived eighty-eight years and during that time wrote more than one thousand pieces of music. A piano teacher at Wellesley college, her work as a composer would earn her an honorary doctorate from Stetson university and a writing award from the American society of composers, artists, and publishers. Yet while thousands of choirs performed Davis’s cantatas, while millions have heard her choral anthems, she is best remembered today for a single song – a very simple carol penned in the months preceding World War II.
Katherine Davis was born in 1892 in St. Joseph, Missouri. Katherine so loved music that from childhood she saw the world in melody and verse. A student of history, Davis spent time learning both American and European folk music. Combined with the choral anthems she sang in church and school, these influences led to Katherine’s developing a musical style that was rich in content and harmonization. So unique and accomplished were her original pieces that, while she was still a young woman, Davis earned the praise of a host of music publishers and critics. She also grew used to hearing choirs sing her best work.
Driven to penning as many as two or three songs a week, Davis was constantly searching for new inspiration. She read the Bible, history books, and even children’s fairy tales. She especially was drawn to folk legends. She even adapted several of these into songs and musical plays. It was probably in an ancient European story that she uncovered the inspiration for what would become her most beloved work.
There are many French and English folktales concerning gifts given to the baby Jesus. These touching stories of poor people sharing what little they had to celebrate and honor the Lord’s birth have been passed down for hundreds of years. Yet in the Great Depression, these tales of seemingly unworthy gifts given from the heart being magnified into something wondrous meant more than they ever before had. In a world where tens of millions couldn’t even afford to buy a Christmas card, a gift from the heart was now all they had to offer their friends and families.
There can be little doubt that Katherine understood the suffering that was all around her. She no doubt witnessed poor children peering through toy-shop windows at the same time fathers and mothers were being forced to make presents out of leftover pieces of twine, wood, and ribbon. She had to wonder if these handmade gifts would bring joy or disappointment on Christmas morning.
The third variable that probably moved Davis to pen her most famous Christmas ode was the looming threat of another World War. Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, there was a somber mood in almost every church service, radio news report, newspaper story. The world was on the brink self-destruction, everyone knew about it, and there appeared to be no way to avoid the conflict.
With these thoughts in mind, Davis, who most often penned complex and intricate musical pieces, sat down at the piano in 1941 and wrote a very simple song about a very unpretentious Christmas gift. Imagining a poor child coming to witness the birth of the Savior, Katherine composed “The Carol of the Drum.”
The child who was the focal point of Davis’s song might have been from ancient Israel, but in 1941 he could have come off the streets of any American town. He was a victim of poverty, a polite child whose only possession was a small drum. All he could offer was to “play his best.” But before he began, still very unsure that what he was offering was good enough for a king, the small boy asked Mary if his gift would be appropriate. It was the story that millions knew well in the days of economic chaos and impending war. After all, it was a time when peace on earth seemed like a fairy tale.
Even though its message seemed so much a part of the times, “The Carol of the Drum,” spurred on by its elementary percussion beat, did not become one of the songs that inspired a world at war. Like thousands of other Christmas carols, it was pushed aside. During these years Americans instead clung to sentimental numbers such as “I’ll be home for Christmas “ and “White Christmas”. In fact it seemed the holidays of World War II had less to do with the gospel of Luke and much more to do with families praying to be safely reunited for a future Christmas Day. So for almost two decades, “Carol of the Drum” remained an unknown melody with a forgotten message. During this time, Katherine moved on to other types of music and messages.
In 1958, Harry Simeone, while searching for ideas for a Christmas album, happened upon Davis’s carol. Simeone had once directed the famed Fred Waring Orchestra. He now had his own choir. Sensing that voices could blend to produce a drum beat, the choir leader dusted off the World War II reject. He then rearranged Davis’s “Carol of the Drum”, renamed it, and took it to the recording studio. Convinced this song was a hit, in November the Harry Simeone Chorale’s “Little Drummer Boy” was released. In the era of rock and roll, doo-wop, and teen idols, the Christmas story of a poor child and his drum took the nation by storm.
By 1962, “Little Drummer Boy” had been recorded more than a hundred times and had appeared on the pop charts on five occasions. The song had also been featured on countless television shows and was being adapted into an animated movie starring Greer Garson. By the end of the decade, only two other Christmas songs, “White Christmas” and “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” had generated more success.
No one was more shocked by the public’s response to her “Carol of the Drum” than was Katherine Davis. At the age of seventy, after working for more than five decades in relative obscurity, she was suddenly in the nation’s spotlight. Her story of a child who played drums for the baby Jesus would keep Davis in the nation’s heart until her death in 1980.
Katherine Davis could not explain why “Little Drummer Boy”came to mean so much to America. Perhaps a part of it was due to the climate that had enveloped the nation the year Harry Simeone recorded the song. For the first time people wear faced with the prospect that man had the power to blow the earth apart with the push of a button. The fear of nuclear bombs ending time itself caused many to yearn for an era when peace on earth came down to something far less complex than a United Nations debate or an Iron Curtain separating good from bad and fight from wrong. So the carol that had been written on the eve the Second World War became a prayer for peace during the height of the Cold War. Maybe, some thought, if the leaders of the world would simply listen to the hearts and minds of the children, then peace would be deemed more important than territorial of political disputes. Perhaps a single drum played with sincerity could silence the angry voices long enough to focus on the real reason for celebrating Christmas.
Simple, direct, and honest, “Little Drummer Boy “might have been based on a legend, but in its verses are beautiful examples of the best Christmas gift of all – a rich present wrapped in love and delivered by a child.
I am just an ordinary girl who is loved by an extraordinary God and I seek to love others the same way. I love to bake, read, do puzzles, watch Hallmark movies, and go shopping with my mom! This blog was created as a place where I could share some thoughts that the Lord has shown me and to be an encouragement to others who desire to know Him in a deeper way. My prayer is to learn to sit still and trust God with my future.
Love Jane Austen? Looking for a unique gift for those special people in your life? Visit Return to Innocence Era and take a step back in time when the simple things were still valued.