Quote of the Day: Away in A Manger & the Nativity

Away in a manger

No crib for a 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

Away in a Manger

Origins of the Quote

“Away in a Manger” is a Christmas carol first published in the late nineteenth century and used widely throughout the English-speaking world. In Britain, it is one of the most popular carols; a 1996 Gallup Poll ranked it joint second. Although it was long claimed to be the work of German religious reformer Martin Luther, the carol is now thought to be wholly American in origin. The two most-common musical settings are by William J. Kirkpatrick (1895) and James Ramsey Murray (1887).

The History Behind the Words

An article in the May 1884 issue of The Myrtle, a periodical of the Universalist Publishing House in Boston, claimed:

‘Martin Luther, the great German reformer, who was born four hundred years ago the 10th of next November, composed the following hymn for his children; and it is still sung by many German mothers to their little ones.’

An early appearance was on 2 March 1882, in the “Childrens’ Corner” section of the anti-masonic journal The Christian Cynosure. Under the heading “Luther’s Cradle Song”, an anonymous author contributed the first two verses, writing:

A similar article appeared in the November 1883 issue of The Sailors’ Magazine and Seamen’s Friend.

Further, an early version was published in Little Pilgrim Songs, a book of Christian music for young children whose preface is dated 10 November 1883. Little Pilgrim Songs includes a similar claim that the song was written: “by Martin Luther for his own children”.

All four sources include the almost-identical text of the first two verses, with no music. Little Pilgrim Songs and The Myrtle both suggest the melody of Home! Sweet Home!

Some Final Thoughts

There is a theological ambiguity in the second verse. The line “no crying he makes” is considered by some to fall into the heresy. This owing to the line’s implication that, by not crying, Jesus could not have been fully human as is taught by orthodox Christian doctrine. Even though the first two lines of that verse make clear, the context is that of a newborn fallen asleep sometime after birth. Later the babe is awakened by the lowing of nearby cattle. Some infants when napping usually do so and others wake and lie quietly, unless hungry, wet, or otherwise distressed.

Overall, the feel of this beautiful nativity carol allows the images to emerge and play out. They inspire faith and a sense of worship and awe and reverence regarding the birth of the Lord. People from different cultures and countries to are familiar with the hymn, admitting its reach.

Check out our Quote of the Day archive where we bring you quotes hand picked by me, Divvya Nirula. Sharing the stories, people, moments behind the inspiration and thought provoking words.