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 accompany 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