Among the most recognizable and beloved Christmas Carols is “The Little Drummer Boy,” which holds within its simple lyrics and charming drum beat a meaningful lesson about Gift – the theme of this Christmas issue’s In Focus.

The carol was composed in 1941 by Katherine Kennicott Davis, from St. Joseph, Mo., who was a composer of more than 600 hymns and choir songs. The original title was “The Carol of the Drum.” Since the late 1950s, it has been recorded by well over 100 musicians and sung by countless children and adults at Christmas because of its heartfelt appeal.

The carol lyrics describe the experience of a poor boy called by the Magi to visit Jesus the newborn king. The young boy wants nothing more than to give a gift to the new baby and family, but hesitates, seeing the Magi who bring their finest gifts to honor the new king, offering him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

“I have no gift to bring, to lay before the King,” we hear the young drummer sigh in the song, before offering to play his drum, the one gift he can give. Mary nods, the ox and lamb keep time, and the baby Jesus smiles at him and his drum, the lyrics say, and the young boy’s humble, simple gift is lovingly received by the Holy Family.

The stories that comprise this issue’s In Focus unfold those simple yet life-changing gifts that cannot be purchased – Community, Presence, Sharing, Faith and Prayer.

Throughout the year, and especially during this holy season, parishes across the Diocese are engaged in these acts of love – making connections or reconciling with others, walking with people on their journeys, sharing gifts and talents with others, particularly children, and nurturing the faith and prayer life of others.

Parishioners of all ages reach out to others, visiting the homebound or those in nursing homes, bringing them cards and small gifts often made by school children; Jesse Trees are stripped bare of the wishes hanging on their branches as generous and thoughtful parishioners make sure those wishes are fulfilled. Living Nativities, parish Christmas tree lightings, Lessons and Carols, and food drives for those in need reveal the desire to stay connected with others and help meet their needs.

Such gifts are often overlooked in a culture that is immersed in a commercialized Christmas and places great importance on monetary value and acquiring material goods, especially during the holiday season. This leaves many with a misconception that gifts of time and personal presence, of sharing blessings and faith, are not sufficient, when in truth they are true gifts of immeasurable value. St. Teresa of Calcutta shared this beautiful insight: “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”

As the song portrays, the Little Drummer Boy received this most beautiful gift from the king himself, when the newborn baby Jesus smiled at him, and learned there is always something to give when we give of ourselves through a love of God.

It is in these gifts of self and gifts of love that the joy of Christmas is found. Pope St. John Paul II observed, “The joy promised by the Beatitudes is the very joy of Jesus himself: a joy sought and found in obedience to the Father, and in the gift of self to others.”