Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.
The stars in the sky look down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.\
Most of us learned to sing this Christmas song while we were yet quite small children, and most of us have kept our affection for it. Children love to sing it, and adults love to listen.
The author of the hymn is a mystery. For many years, people thought that Martin Luther had written it and had sung it to his children. That notion came about because in 1887 a man named James Murray published a children’s songbook entitled, Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses. He included “Away in a Manger,” and added this note:
“Luther’s Cradle Hymn,
Composed by Martin Luther for his children
and still sung by German mothers to their little ones.”
But as far as we know, Murray got the song from a songbook published just a little earlier by Pennsylvania German Lutherans. Apparently, Murray, knowing Luther’s great gift for composing church music, assumed that this song from a Lutheran songbook would have been written by Martin Luther. But the song was unknown in Germany until later, when it made its way from America to Germany.
But the real importance of the song has less to do with its origins than with the fact that it speaks so clearly to little children and resonates so nicely with the rest of us.
Copyright 2008, Richard Niell Donovan