Friday, December 15, 2023

Away In A Manger-An American Carol by Zina Abbott


A 1966 Gallup Poll ranked "Away In A Manger" the second most popular Christmas carol in Britain. Yet, the origins of this hymn—both the music and words—are shrouded in mystery.

It was originally believed by many that the words for "Away In A Manger" were written by Martin Luther, the German religious reformer.

James R. Murray

James R. Murray titled the tune as “Luther’s Cradle Hymn” in 1887. He not only claimed Martin Luther wrote the song, but that he sang it to his children every night before they went to sleep. Due to Luther’s popularity, this story helped the song become even more beloved. 

German families of that time period found this claim to be surprising. They not only did not sing “Away In A Manger” to their children at bedtime, they had never even heard of the song until it arrived in Europe…from the United States. In fact, once the English words were translated into German, the meter of the words did not match that of the music. Although Martin Luther’s writings might have influenced the words of this carol, its origin was not Germany.

Instead, it appears that the hymn—words and music--originated in America. This was suggested by Methodist hymnologist Fred Gealy (1894-1976). The original two-stanza form probably originated in Pennsylvania in Little Children’s Book for Schools and Families, a Sunday school collection published in 1885 by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America. Although most likely written in the mid 1800’s in America but we have no one to legally attribute it to.

Jonathan E. Spilman

The Find-a-Grave listing for Jonathan E. Spilman identifies him as having written the first musical version. From Kentucky, he was lawyer, minister, and composer. An adaptation of the music from the song for which he was best known,
"Flow Gently, Sweet Afton," was used in earlier versions of this carol. More than 41 adaptations of Spilman's 1837 melody exist.

By Christmas of 1883, "Luther's Cradle Song" was already being performed as a recitation as part of a Sunday School celebration in a church in Nashville.

The most popular musical setting in the United States is commonly known as "Mueller". The melody was first published, under the title "Luther's Cradle Hymn", by James R. Murray in his 1887 collection Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses.


In Britain, Ireland and Canada, the more popular version is "Cradle Song"—a slight variation of Spilman's original work.  This 1895 arrangement written by the American composer, William J. Kirkpatrick, was first published as part of the 1895 collection Around the World with Christmas. Kirkpatrick's melody was later published in numerous hymnbooks. Because of that, the words of the hymn were first carried beyond the United States. This music remains the most popular outside the United States.

The words for this hymn are taken from William J. Kirkpatrick’s 1895 publication:

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,

William J. Kirkpatrick
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 till 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.

The final stanza, added later, follows the pattern of many hymns by using the form of prayer, petitioning Jesus’ presence in the first part of the stanza and blessing of “all the dear children in thy tender care.” The final petition requests that Jesus would “fit us for heaven to live with thee there.”

To end, I encourage you to take a few minutes to rest and enjoy the peace of Christmas by listening to your favorite Christmas carols/hymns (not that “Jingle Bells”, Santa ho-ho stuff) and remember the reason for the season.


was released last Friday and is now available as an ebook and at no additional cost with a Kindle Unlimited subscription. It will soon be available in paperback. To find the book description and current purchase options, 




My other Christmas romance for 2023 is  

Vinegar Pie by Varinia

It is available as an ebook, including at no additional cost with a Kindle Unlimited subscription. It is also available in paperback. To find the book description and purchase options,






Kathleen Rice Adams writings

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