Away in a Manger

Away in a Manger is a popular carol throughout the English speaking world. While it”s hard to get an exact ordering of which carols are sung most we have some indication from a 1996 Gallop Poll in Britain which revealed it as the joint second most popular Christmas carol, sharing the spot with O Come All Ye Faithful.

While the precise author of the carol Away in a Manger is unknown, there has been speculation that it could have been written by Martin Luther. This is probably just a myth however, with more evidence pointing towards the carol being authored in the late nineteenth century in the United States. We do know that it”s first appearance was in a book entitled The Little Children”s Book for Schools and Families which appeared in Philadelphia in 1885. This contained much of the modern carol, but excluded the third verse which first appears in a Charles H. Gabriel collection from 1892. This was part of the reason that the Library of Congress”s carol researcher and head of reference section Richard S. Hill concluded that it was probably a Lutheran children”s poem created for the 1883 celebration of Martin Luther”s 400th birthday.

While the lyrics in use today don”t see much variation, the music that accompanies the song isn’t set in stone. Indeed in hymn books there have been over forty different musical pieces put alongside the lyrics. There isn’t one that”s most popular everywhere either, and both the USA and UK have different musical pieces that the music most commonly. In the USA it”s Mueller, a piece written by James R. Murray in 1887. While the UK largely uses Cradle Song by William J. Kirkpatrick who was the musical director of Philadelphia”s Grace Church and a serial hymn and carol compiler – his total publications of this type amounts of eighty-seven!

Away in a Manger has influenced the idea of the Birth of Jesus substantially, although much of what is in the carol isn’t mentioned in the Bible. For instance there”s no references to cattle being present at Jesus’s birth and no mention of Jesus not crying. The idea that Jesus was unable to cry suggests super-human characteristics that Gnosticism or Apollinarianism ascribed to Christ. Some haves suggested that it”s exclusion from English Hymnal and Hymns Ancients and Modern was due to these inaccuracies. Never the less a controversy stirred in 1991 when British newspaper the Observer reported that some schools had altered the lyrics to remove Christian references, although research into this has found little factual accuracy in the report and the full lyrics are still being song across the world.


Away in a manger, No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus, Laid down His sweet head
The stars in the bright sky,Looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus,Asleep on the hay

The cattle are lowing,The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus, No crying He makes
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, Look down from the sky
And stay by my side, “Til morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, And love me I pray
Bless all the dear children, In Thy tender care
And take us to heaven, To live with Thee there

Carol of the Bells

Christmas is a time of bells: from the traditional bells of churches, to the bells of sleighs, to children singing Jingle Bells to jovial Santa”s in town center streets ringing bells. Bells have become a symbol of Christmas itself, and this song reflects their ever-presence. No surprise then that bells feature in many of the cultural manifestations of Christmas – from Hollywood films such as The Bells of St. Mary to Christmas songs such as I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. As well as being the omnipresent symbols of Christmas, bells further mark joyous occasions: they are rung out at weddings, christenings, and even on the dawning of peace at the ends of wars.

Their celebratory message is therefore key to their use by Christians at Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus. This is not a new phenomenon, but a tradition of Christian churches since the Dark Ages to ring out their bells on Christmas Day. Despite this, the Bible does not document bells ringing at the birth of Christ: none of the Gospels of John, Luke, Mark or Matthew mention their use and neither dp Paul”s letters. Indeed the only reference to bells in the entire Bible is in Zechariah. However there is an early Christian story involving all the world”s bells simultaneously and in unison ringing at the birth of Christ and causing the world”s population to acknowledge the new king. Historical evidence points strongly against this story however, not least due to the relative absence of bells during that period. Still the story has had historical significance, arguably being a method of encouraging church attendance and involvement in Christmas celebrations in the early Church. While the story is no long as popular, it survived longer in Eastern Europe where up to the first half of the twentieth century it was popularly recited.

It is thus unsurprising that the Christmas Carol to encapsulate this story best came from this region. Mykola Dmytrovich Leontovych (1877-1921), a 39 year old composer popular throughout Ukraine and the larger Russian Empire, penned the music to the carol now known as “Carols of the Bells” in 1916. The music, named “Shchedryk”, he created however was originally a non-seasonal hymn, one which celebrated beauty in God”s creation. However circumstances of its first performance, by Kiev University Students in December 1916, caused the first association of the music with the Christmas season. The music itself has both light melodies with three and four-part harmonies. While seemingly complicated, the music is surprisingly easy to learn making the song an instant hit.

It took another two decades for the music to mature into the modern-day carol, thanks to Peter J. Wilhousky (1902-1978). While Wilhousky, born in Passaic, New Jersey in the United States, had never visited Ukraine, or indeed Eastern Europe, he understood the region well given his cultural background. His parents were Czech immigrants to America who taught their children Slavic songs and dances. Indeed as a teenager Wilhousky became a part of the well known and respected New York Russian Cathedral Boys Choir and even sang at the White House in front of President Woodrow Wilson. Later Wilhousky would receive an undergraduate degree from the Juiliard School of Music, after which he produced several Carnegie Hall concerts before becoming the arranger for NBC radio”s symphony orchestra. It was during this time, despite heavy demands on his time, he came across the music to “Shchedryk” which he viewed as fitting the traditional Christian story of carols in unison at Christ”s birth. Thus in 1936 the Carol known today as “Carol of the Bells” was born.

It was his job as arranger for NBC radio”s symphony orchestra, and his ability to play the piece on air in an era when radio, despite the depression, was becoming increasingly popular, which led to the speedy rise to popularity of “Carol of the Bells.” Choirs, including Wilhousky”s own All City High School Chorus, began performing the carol across the United States. Over the next two decades the carol would be recorded thousands of times, performed millions of times and even translated into a variety of languages. Today the Carol is a key aspect of the American caroling tradition. Its popularity was perhaps helped by its use in champagne television advertisements.

Wilhousky is not the only composer to put words to Leontovych”s carol, even if his version is the most successful. M. L . Holman”s 1947 Ring, Christmas Bells, and two anonymous songs, one eponymous written around 1972 (which begins with the line “Hark to the bells, Hark to the bells”), and one entitled “Come, Dance and Sing” written in 1957.


Hark how the bells,
sweet silver bells,
all seem to say,
throw cares away

Christmas is here,
bringing good cheer,
to young and old,
meek and the bold,

Ding dong ding dong
that is their song
with joyful ring
all caroling

One seems to hear
words of good cheer
from everywhere
filling the air

Oh how they pound,
raising the sound,
o”er hill and dale,
telling their tale,

Gaily they ring
while people sing
songs of good cheer,
Christmas is here,

Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas,
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas,
On on they send,
on without end,
their joyful tone
to every home
Dong Ding dong ding… dong! Bong!