Christmas Classics – Away in a Manger | Lyrics Review and Song Meaning

A Lullaby that Paints Serenity

“Away in a Manger” is as beatific and sweet a carol as one may find. A lullaby that moves the listener. It transports us to our youth, to those early chapters of our lives. Yet is this tranquil jewel a prayer? Or is it an ode or a ballad celebrating the essence of Christmas itself?

What it means to us

Words and a melody that takes many of us back to our childhood. It’s sweet and powerful, serene and beautiful. Many would agree that ‘Away in a Manger’ is a touching ode to children and youth. Yet its words and music tugs at the heartstrings of adults as well. It is a Christmas carol that resounds within us. Paving a path down memory lane. Our affection for it prevails.

The Origins of “Away in a Manger” Carol

According to sermonwriter.com and other sources, the original creator of the hymn is a mystery. The origin of this soothing melody is unknown. One of the most popular notions is that Martin Luther had written it for his children. This idea stems from an 1887 published children’s songbook by James Murray. James had added the carol and with it penned a note. An excerpt from the note said: “Luther’s Cradle Hymn, Composed by Martin Luther for his children.”

However, there is speculation that Murray got it from a songbook published earlier by Pennsylvania German Lutherans. Murray aware of Martin Luther’s talent of composing church music had assumed it was conceived by him. It was after James published it in 1887 in ‘Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses’ that it spread throughout America.

In 1892 Charles Hutchinson Gabriel a composer, poet and editor published a new edition of the carol. Charles had titled it ‘Cradle Song’ and published it in ‘Gabriel’s Vineyard Songs’.

“Away in Manger” is said to have three versions where one of its origins can be traced to an early Austrian folk song.

The Lyrics

A song is but a moving instrumental where the finality of meaningful lyrics can complete it. Imagine a fine sketch of painting finished with the shades and touches of colour. Such is the power of words. “Away in a Manger” is as much a lullaby for children as it is a Christmas carol. It seems like a prayer of a child before bedtime.

Its six verses form a simple story arc. The first and second verses speak of there not being a crib. The Lord Jesus not having a proper place to rest is nestled laid to sleep on the hay. Yet while he is in slumber the countless stars above look down on him.

The third verse makes reference to the manger. ‘The cattle are lowing’ and ‘the baby awakes’. Yet we are told that the baby is not easily alarmed or alerted: ‘No crying he makes’.

The fourth and fifth verses shed a different light. They speak of the singer calling for the Lord’s guidance at all times.
‘And stay by my side,’ Till morning is nigh’ / And even ‘I ask Thee to stay, Close by me Forever.’

The final verse is a selfless prayer asking that all the children of the earth are protected. It speaks of ‘Tender care’ and in an interesting climax asks the Lord to ‘Take us to heaven, To live with Thee there’.

In Conclusion

“Away in a Manger” is a staple carol of the season, much like “Silent Night” or “Deck the Halls” or even “Twelve Days of Christmas.” A lullaby anthem that paints a serene and beautiful picture of Christ’s birth with a memorable tune. With its poignant message and tones of peace, joy and hope it makes for a perfect and purposeful Christmas carol.

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