What are the lyrics and origins of Christmas carol ‘Away in a Manger’?

3 December 2020, 17:10

What are the lyrics to ‘Away in a Manger’?
What are the lyrics to ‘Away in a Manger’? Picture: Getty

By Sian Moore

‘Away in a Manger’ is an enduring favourite at Christmastime, and one of the best-known carols out there – but what are the lyrics, and where did the song come from?

‘Away in a Manger’ was first published in the late 19th century... but the origins of the festive favourite haven’t always been clear.

Up until the 20th century, it was believed the carol was the work of Martin Luther – a German priest – which led to the carol being named ‘Luther’s Cradle Song’.

But historians have debunked this belief, as none of Luther’s writings mentioned the song and no German text for the carol has been found from earlier than 1934.

Read more: Christmas on Classic FM: Join us for a month of musical festivities >

It’s now believed the carol originated in the Evangelical Lutheran Sunday School collection Little Children’s Book for Schools and Families, which was published in 1885.

Indeed, the Hymnology Archive points out that the song was likely written for Martin Luther’s birth, then misleadingly attributed to Luther himself, “even though this song is not to be found in any of Luther’s hymn collections, nor it is known to have existed in any form in the German language”.

Read more: The history of the Christmas carol >

The best-known melody for the festive song is thought to have originally been composed by Jonathan Spilman in 1837, before being adapted in 1895 by William Kirkpatrick.

Another popular version of the melody is by James Murray and was first published in 1887’s Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses.

'Away in a Manger' is a favourite for nativity plays
'Away in a Manger' is a favourite for nativity plays. Picture: Getty

What are the lyrics to ‘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 bedside till morning is nigh.

Be near me, lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay
Close by me for ever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.