The Story Behind the Christmas Carol… “Away in a Manger”

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One of the most loved children’s Christmas songs is “Away in A Manger.” The song is easily learned and the note range is quite within the vocal ability of all children. The lyrics are musical life lessons. They give a brief and simplistic summary of the Christmas birth of Jesus and go on to express a childlike love for the Savior with a desire and assurance that He is always near.

There is much speculation as to the origin of the simple hymn. Richard S. Hill, a reference librarian at the Library of Congress, is considered the authority on the song, having done extensive research on the subject. His findings were published in the Music Library Association’s journal, Notes, December of 1945, in his article “Not So Far Away In A Manger: Forty-one settings of an American Carol.”

According to Hill, the song first appeared in a Lutheran publication Little children’s book: for schools and families. By Authority of the general council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America. The song is listed as a nursery hymn with the book dated “Christmas 1884” and the copyright being June of 1885. In this printing, the tune for the poem is called St. Kilda and was written by J.E. Clark. Only two verses were included with this publication, and those used are without the listing of an author or source, a characteristic unlike other included hymns.

There is speculation that the two verses were from an anonymous play or story written within the German Lutheran sect found in Pennsylvania. In 1883, Lutherans as well as many Protestant groups were celebrating the 400th birthday ofGerman Reformer, Martin Luther. The poem could have been written as part of a local presentation of this event, which possible could have led to the gross misinformation that was printed in a later publication.

It is also been commonly known as “Luther’s Cradle Hymn.” Hill concluded: “Although Luther himself had nothing to do with the carol, the colonies of German Lutherans in Pennsylvania almost certainly did. (Click to Article)

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