I watched a lot of silly Christmas movies growing up. Most were harmless cheesy fun, but I didn’t like the movie about the Little Drummer Boy.
The Little Drummer Boy is a macabre film about a boy named Aaron who witnessed his parents massacred by marauders in the desert. For a time, he lived feral in the wilderness and learned to talk to animals. Then, he was kidnapped and used as an entertainer in a traveling circus. Finally, he ended up traveling with the three Wise Men to see baby Jesus at Bethlehem.
He played his drum for Jesus, and found healing in his heart from seeing the baby smile. This whole maudlin story is portrayed in about half an hour with cute stop-motion animation. I can’t imagine what the people at Rankin Bass were thinking.
The Little Drummer Boy was so disturbing to me, that I re-wrote the ending in my head. I convinced myself that Mary and Joseph must have adopted the Little Drummer Boy and taken him to Egypt with them after he played his drum. That was the only possible thing a woman without sin like Mary and a man who was truly just like Joseph would do, if a young traumatized orphan being exploited by a traveling circus came and played in front of them. They’d give him a home.
A family is never just a group of people who are biologically related. They’re also united by love, and love is a thing that expands and brings others in
I believed in this revised ending so firmly, that I was actually shocked when I re-watched the film as an adult. The movie ends with the Christ Child smiling at Aaron, and Aaron feeling peace in his heart, and that’s that.
My ending is better. Not just because it’s comforting. It’s truer.
If Mary was truly a perfect mother without any sin, she must have accumulated step-siblings for Jesus. That’s what good mothers do. They take people into the circle of their love, and they care for them.
Motherhood is never a merely biological contract. You don’t merely become a mother to one particular physical body that grew inside of you. Motherhood changes your relation to the whole world. Mothers become the anchor for a family. And the better mothers end up mothering whole armies of people, bringing them into the family.
A family is never just a group of people who are biologically related. They’re also united by love, and love is a thing that expands and brings others in.
The family that lives down the street from me is a perfect example. Grandma is caring for her own daughter and her daughter’s six children. Besides these children, Grandma cares for her nieces and nephews who live all around my neighborhood– letting them play at her house, signing them up for Bible Club and free after-school lessons downtown, asking around to get them school clothes. She cares for the friends of the nieces and nephews in the same way.
Rosie goes to play at their house and gets that same treatment: Grandma reads to Rosie and arranges games that all the children can play together. Grandma even mothers me. I come over to visit and she tells me the best places to get food boxes, Easter baskets, and used clothing, just in case I wanted to know.
Rosie and I never even caught this woman’s name; we just call her Grandma. Because that’s what she became, as soon as Rosie came into her orbit. A mother is someone who mothers the people in her orbit. She takes care of everyone who comes to her, because that’s her function in society. The more she cares, the more a mother she is.
Our faith tells us that there are only two perfect mothers in all the world: Christ, Who described Himself as the mother hen gathering chicks under her wings, and Mary who was consecrated to bear Him from the beginning of time.
All other mothers are imperfect. All other mothers make mistakes. Some are dreadfully flawed. Lord knows I am. I could never rise to the level of my neighbor the Appalachian Grandma. But if we see something truly wonderful in a mother and say to ourselves, “She’s a good mother, because that thing she’s doing is the essence of motherhood”: then we know that we will find the perfection of that virtue in Christ and Mary, the only perfect mothers.
The story about Aaron the Little Drummer Boy itself is not true, but you can be sure children played drums in the Holy Family’s home in Nazareth
Our faith tells us that there’s never been a perfect father except God the Father. But good Saint Joseph was a just man, arguably the greatest saint besides the Virgin Mary. So we know that he came very close. Our faith tells us that the only perfect family was the Holy Family, who were poor and suffered horribly from all kinds of unfortunate circumstances, but persevered in perfect love. Perfect love is not something limited to an immediate family.
The Holy Family must not have been nearly as tranquil as we’ve been led to believe. The home at Nazareth must have been a zoo. The story about Aaron the Little Drummer Boy itself is not true, but you can be sure there were sometimes children playing drums there, and having tantrums, and climbing the walls, and singing annoying songs over and over for the fun of it. There were poor neighborhood children who came over to play with Jesus, and He let the little children come to Him and made them feel happy.
Mary did likewise. She set aside what she was doing and was a good hostess. Surely, sometimes the guests needed something more than play, and Mary and Joseph tried to get them what they needed: clothing, meals, a listening ear, housework, wise advice, a place to hide. Surely, at least once, there was a child who had nowhere to go, who used the Holy Family’s house as a foster home for a time. There must have been.
I am certain that Jesus thought of this on Calvary, when He saw His grieving mother there at the foot of the cross. He must have seen the Beloved Disciple standing there, alone, terrified, confused, and done for him what He was used to doing for children who needed a place to go. He gave the Beloved Disciple into the care of His mother, and gave His mother into the Beloved Disciple’s care.
That’s what mothers do.
That’s what a holy family is.
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