“Away in the Manager”, the Song and the Story


When I began plotting my story for A Texas Christmas I knew that my hero was going to be a grouchy old blacksmith who wanted to celebrate Christmas in the only way he knew how … in solitude because of a tragedy he’d experienced during the holidays three years prior.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that wasn’t gonna happen because of the blizzard that hit the Texas Panhandle in 1887.

My proposal had him snowed in with a lovely, pregnant woman who gives birth on Christmas Eve, thus the name Away in the Manger.  But how I first envisioned my story and how it began unfolding was totally different.  Yes, a pretty lady is stranded but instead of being with child she has three year old twins, a boy and a girl, who are precious, inquisitive and much harder for my hero to handle than a pregnant woman would have ever been.  As I wrote my story, or as it wrote itself, I realized that my little girl was a mirror image of my youngest granddaughter, Addison Claire … thus the creation of Addie Claire and her brother Damon.

And, of course, once Rand and Sarah discover they love one another and want to be a family; and with one twin in each arm, Rand begins to sing Away in the Manager and is quickly joined by his new love and the children

Here’s a little history I found on the song.

  • It doesn’t have a clear-cut author, as it was written in counterpart, but it is one of the most popular hymns and also Christmas carols sang. Whatever the refrain, whichever of the variations; and/or whoever is the true composer, there can be no doubt that this sweet song is a favorite of children and adults alike.Most current publications of Away in a Manger indicate that the writer of the first two stanzas is unknown. Others name Martin Luther as the author. The song was first published in an 1885 Lutheran Sunday School book compiled by James R. Murray (1841-1905), who gave the song a subtitle of Luther’s Cradle Hymn. The third verse was written by John T. McFarland in 1904.
  • Some credit the music to Murray; others think he merely harmonized an old German folk song. The words are frequently sung to the tune of the Scottish song Flow Gently Sweet Afton.
  • The beloved children’s Christmas Carol is generally sung to one of two melodies. In the U.S. the most popular tune is Mueller, while the United Kingdom prefers the melody of Cradle Song.

Modern research confirms the words date back to the late 19th century and originated in America, not Germany. Richard S. Hill, librarian at the Library of Congress, found that the origins of Away in the Manager came from celebrations of Martin Luther’s 400th birthday among Lutheran churches in the United States in 1883. Hill concluded from his research that an unknown person or persons wrote the words of Away in the Manager  as a poem for use in a children’s play at one such Luther birthday party.

There have been several variations of the song, including one or more of the following:

  • The first line of the 1st verse – exchange ‘no crib for a bed’ for ‘no room for his head’
  • The third line of the 1st verse – omit the word ‘bright’ or exchange ‘bright’ for ‘night’
  • The first line of the 2nd verse – exchange ‘the baby awakes’ for ‘the Babe awakes’ or add the word ‘poor’ and remove the (‘The poor baby wakes’)
  • The last line of the 2nd verse – exchange ‘stay by my cradle ’til’ for either ‘stay by my bed until’ or ‘stay by my bedside ’til’
  • The last line of the 3rd verse – exchange ‘And take us to Heaven’ for either ‘And fit us for Heaven’ or ‘And throw us to Heaven’


Away in a Manger

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 Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle ’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.

And, from me to you, I pray each of you had a wonderful Christmas and are ready for a very prosperous and happy 2012!

This is my final blog for 2011 and I want to thank everyone for making my 2011 at Petticoats and Pistols so much fun.  I thank you all for sharing your stories with us and look forward to a wonderful New Year here at Wildflower Junction.


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A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

Visit her at phylissmiranda.com

21 thoughts on ““Away in the Manager”, the Song and the Story”

  1. Maybe it’s fitting that the origins of this beautiful song be a mystery, Phyliss. Like an anonymous gift to the world.
    The variations you included were interesting. As a child I learned it with “the poor baby wakes.”
    But “throw us to heaven”??? That conjures up some delightful images. How could you sing that line without breaking into giggles?

  2. Thanks Cheryl and Elizabeth for stopping by so early this wondrous day after Christmas. Don’t know about you, but I’m tired and can hardly wait to get some of the Christmas stuff cleaned up, so I can face 2012 with a half-way clean house. We in the Texas Panhandle ended up with a White Christmas with almost five inches of snow unexpectedly, which made our holiday fun along with not prepared for the snow.

    I thought the history of the story was interesting, and selected it early because I used it in “A Texas Christmas”. I had no idea it had a rich and controversial history, but it was fun learning more about it. I hope both of you have a wonderful day. Much love, P

  3. “Away in a Manger” is such a beautiful song. We sing it every year after we read the Nativity story, but I always love to hear it sung by children. There’s just something so sweet about those little voices singing this song.

    Thank you for sharing a bit of it’s history. And for the tender and cute story in “A Texas Christmas.”

  4. Thanks, Kirsten. I hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday. I love the song, and there is something special about it being sung by children.

    Thank you for yur kind comments on my story in “A Texas Christmas”. It just kinda came to me and little Addie Claire is truly patterned after my own granddaughter Addison Claire, who was about the same age when I wrote the story. And, Damon oculd be her older brother very easy. They are both inquisitive and loving little kids. Appreciate you stopping by this morning. Big hugs, Phyliss

  5. Phyliss,
    I have a piano version of Away in the Manger that I break out and play every year (and sometimes in between in July, just because I like it!) that mixes Away in a Manger and Flow Gently Sweet Afton. I especially love this because growing up, being part Scotch/Irish, we learned all those old folk songs. My dad particularly loved Flow Gently Sweet Afton and used to try to put on his best Robert Burns accent and sing it.LOL Away in a Manger is one of my very favorite Christmas carols, and I love it that you used it in your story in the anthology–can’t wait to get that into my hot little hands and read, BTW. I’m glad you had such a wonderful Christmas, and here’s hoping 2012 will be a fantastic year for us all.
    Cheryl P.

  6. Hey Miss Phyliss…….this has always been one of my favorite Christmas carols. My eyes always tear up when I sing it. Very touching if you listen to the words.

    Hope your Christmas was full of laughter and good times with family. I’m really glad it’s over with. I’ve had all the celebrating I want for a while. New Year’s Day will be a very quiet affair.

    See you Wednesday!

  7. Great blog post! I’ve heard that song a zillion times and never thought that it could have such a rich and interesting history in itself. Happy New Year!

  8. Hi Phyliss, this is my mother’s favorite Christmas song. She would turn out all the lights except the ones on the manger scene and sing it. I never thought of researching the song itself. Great post. Thanks for sharing. I loved reading “A Texas Christmas” and I’m so thankful they are carring y’alls books at the grocery store here now. I no longer have to wait for the UPS man to deliver!

  9. {hyliss, as usual you always enlighten us on facts and research! You did it again with a wonderful explanation that I didn’t know before.
    Glad Christmas was good for you and like you I am trying to put things back together and recover from all of it!
    Good as always to stop by petticoatsandpistols and say Hellp and see you here. Have awonderful and Blessed 2012!

  10. Thanks for sharing a bit of interesting facts with us. I always enjoy my visits to Peticoats and Pistols and count all of you among myblessings as I do so enjoy getting to know you. Happy New Year!

  11. Hi Sister Fillies, Linda and Cheryl. Wow, Cheryl, I’m impressed that you play the piano, especially Christmas music in July. Although I have to admit that I keep George Strait’s Christmas CD in my player all year round. I’d love to hear you play “Away in the Manager” with the mix of Flow Gently Sweet Afton.

    Linda, enjoyed the family and friends, but the over four inches of snow surprised the heck out of us. I know when I talked with you, you had some snow but you’re also 100 miles south of us. A White Christmas was a surprise. Broke 80+ year old record for snow on Christmas Day. Glad you had a nice quiet Christmas with your kids. Look forward to seeing you on Wednesday.

    Much love to both of you, Phyliss

  12. Thanks for dropping by Nat and Vicki. It looks like, from Stephy’s post (thank you, too) that it is both of your mothers-in-law’s favorite song. I love the idea of turning out of the lights and singing by candlelight. And, Stephy, I’m thrilled that you can get our books in your town now, but let’s not put UPS out of business … order more books! LOL And Vicky, thanks for stopping by, too. I had a wonderful holiday with my family and wished you could have been there, too. The surprise White Christmas put the Angel on top of the Christmas Tree for us. I pray each of you have a prosperous and wonderful 2012! I’m expecting big things for each of you, my friends. Hugs, P

  13. Phyliss,
    Thanks for another interesting post. I am surprised by the possible American roots of this traditional Christmas carol. This is one of the traditional carols that I really like. It is sweet and comforting and more of a lullaby than any of the other carols. Some of the variations are interesting. I agree with Elizabeth about the “throw us to Heaven” substitution. Can’t imagine where that came from.

    Thanks for a year of enjoyable posts and stories. I look forward to another year of the same. I start A TEXAS CHRISTMAS today. I fell so far behind in my Christmas reading.

    I hope you are having a wonderful holiday and that 2012 brings great things for you.

  14. Connie, thank you for your kind words. I, along with the rest of the Fillies, are most blessed by each and every one of you readers who support us. Thank you so much for saying how much you enjoy the site.

    And, Pat, I hope you enjoy “A Texas Christmas” as much as we enjoyed writing each of the stories. Talk about being behind on reading…I’m the champion, I think. I had to move two stacks of books from the fireplace hearth just to start our first fire this year, so they’re on the floor. I promise I’m catching up and not putting them back on the hearth. We are thrilled to provide enjoyable posts and stories to all of you guys.

    And, to both of you, may you have a wonderful holiday and a fantastic 2012 in return. Big hugs from Texas, Phyliss

  15. Away In A Manger has been a favorite for as long as I can remember. I belive it is a song for all ages to enjoy. Thanks for all those interesting tid bits about the song.

    I loved A Texas Christmas and all the anthologies you write with Jodi, Linda and DeWanna.

    Merry Christmas!

  16. I love all the different versions. I used to direct my church’s sunday school Christmas program and it’s amazing all the variations on the verses. I thought these classic hymns would all be carved in stone by now, but nope.

  17. I have so enjoyed this year with all of you and am looking forward to 2012… I have always loved Away In A Manger…thanks for the background.

  18. Lori, thank you. The upcoming “Be My Texas Valentine” is the last one for the four of us for a while at least. We’re all working on other projects of our own and hopefully you’ll love them even better. Thanks for the kind remarks.

    CateS, so good to see you here. Thank you and I pray you and yours have a fantastic 2012.

    Sister Fillies, Tracy and Mary, I know how busy you are and appreciate you dropping over for a visit. Children really do love Away in the Manager more than many of the Christmas carols. Like you Mary, I’d think the classics would be etched in stone but they sure aren’t, as I found out. I was thrilled to find something interesting to write about, since I specifically asked for this song.

    May each of you have a wonderful evening, and very Happy New Year. Hugs, Phyliss.

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