Once upon a time, most little children in church or Sunday School learned this song – often lisping the simple tune with hand motions. It’s a sweet song about the historical event of Baby Jesus’s arrival and manger bed, but there’s a big myth about the origins about the lyrics.
“Away In A Manger” – the featured song of the day has it’s own unique and controversial history. Who knew a child’s song could have so much interesting information in it’s creation and background?
The Manger Bed
Luke 2:7, New King James Version
And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:12, New King James Version
“And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
Baby Jesus in His manger bed is a common feature in nativity scenes and Christmas stories. It’s mentioned a couple times in the Gospel of Luke. God of the Universe in a dirty manger in a common, lowly stable – what a humbling thought.
The Mysterious Song Writer (And Ambitious Publishers)
In 1884, “The Myrtle” – a magazine published by a Boston religious press, Universalist Publishing House – featured the first two verses of “Away In A Manger” under the title “Luther’s Cradle Song.” They suggested Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer of the 16th Century, had written the song for his children. For music, the magazine advised the tune of “Home Sweet Home.”
Legend and history battle for the origins of this song. Interestingly, historians haven’t found the lyrics in Martin Luther’s papers. Most likely, the publishers invented the Luther authorship to make the song more popular among Protestant Christian denominations. It certainly worked (but lying isn’t right!).
Currently, there are several musical versions for the song. Whoever wrote the song, crafted some lovely lyrics. Here are all three verses:
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.
The cattle are lowing the Baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.
I love you Lord Jesus; look down from the sky
And stay by my side until morning is nigh.
Be near me Lord Jesus I ask you to stay
Close by me for ever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in Your tender care,
And fit us for heaven, to live with You there.
Enjoy The Music
Never-mind the authorship controversy – it’s still a lovely little song. Reflect on the wonder of Christ’s coming as you enjoy this song. Teach it to your kids or remember fondly singing it as a child.
P.S. Did you have a favorite Christmas song when you were a kid?