Appalachia Christmas Holidays in Appalachia Music

Away In A Manger

steve and tipper 1970 christmas

Steve & Tipper Christmas 1971

Away In A Manger is the lullaby of Christmas songs. I’ve always thought the simple lines of the song make it sound like a folk song and the visuals of stars, hay, cattle, and meeting in heaven help reinforce the folk song feeling. The fact that no one knows who wrote the song also aligns it with other folk songs from the same era.

For many years Martin Luther, Protestant Reformer from Germany, was credited with writing the song. No one knows why, but in 1887 James R. Murray published the song in his book Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses listing Luther as the writer of the song. Murray was a hymn writer and worked for a publishing company, so it’s probable that he truly thought Luther was the person who penned Away In A Manger. The version of the song published in Murray’s book only had 2 verses. During the years after the publication, the song spread in popularity as did the notion that Luther wrote it.

Two years before Murray published the song, the Lutheran Church published Away In A Manger in a book titled Little Children’s Book giving credit to no writer and showing a completely different tune than the one so many of us know and love.

Shortly after WWI a Boston publishing company published the song crediting Carl Mueller with composing the music for the song.

During both World Wars people in the US shied away from singing Away In A Manger because of it’s supposed connection to Martin Luther and Germany. But the popularity of the song returned after each war ended.

In 1945 American writer Richard Hill decided to unravel the confusing past of the song. Hill discovered Luther was not the writer of the song. Away In A Manger was practically unknown in Germany until it was introduced to the country by Americans. Hill verified that Murray composed the tune we are familiar with today. But Hill’s research could not find the original writer of the song. Research did show evidence that most likely an American during the mid 1800s wrote the song and then the song was passed down orally like so many of our other folk songs.

Watch the video below to check out Pap and Paul’s version of the song.

Away in a Manger is one of the songs on Pap and Paul’s Songs of Christmas cds.


*Source: Collins, Ace. Stories behind the best-loved songs of Christmas. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001. Print.

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  • Reply
    betty stephenson
    January 1, 2022 at 12:53 pm

    hi happy new year everyone best wishes from new zealand stay safe and look after each other and families

  • Reply
    Leon Estes
    December 11, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    Thanks for sharing your memories and for the history behind the song. I enjoy learning about who wrote Christian songs, and where and why.

  • Reply
    December 5, 2017 at 10:34 am

    I am a Lutheran from many generations back and, as you noted, also learned recently that Luther probably had not penned Away in a Manger. It’s interesting how these stories get passed along for generations.
    I had learned one version of Away in a Manger and sang that until a third grade Christmas program in school. They taught us a completely different version from what I had grown up with. It really confused me for a while!
    I love both tunes and sing one or the other as the spirit moves me. Such a wonderful reflection of a simpler time and a child-like faith.

  • Reply
    December 4, 2017 at 4:54 am

    I love the picture of you as a baby…so sweet…and the singing and harmony…makes my heart sing……thank you so much tipper for sharing with us…im so blessed to have found your blog…love to you all…..may you all have a blessed Christmas..filled with love and memories

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    December 3, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    Quinn, I sing either melody and think both are equally beautiful I’ve always wondered if anyone else knew it in two different melodies.
    I’m glad you wrote here.

  • Reply
    June Jolley
    December 3, 2017 at 8:28 pm

    So beautiful. I never knew the history behind this song. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    Looks like Steve is worried about dropping his little sister so he is squeezing you extra tight. I’ll bet there is someone just out of frame ready to grab you – just in case. . . .
    We had the “same” tree only ours had only blue bulbs on it. We had the same towels with the blue roses too; but the cat clock was something I coveted – never got one though – several of my friends had them at their houses and I was fascinated by the swinging tale – but that was in the early to mid 60s.
    Our tree sat in front of a window as well. When we drove in to evening services or were coming home in the evening after a shopping trip in the big city, I loved looking at all the other trees in the windows to see how they were decorated. Those were “the” exterior house decorations then except maybe for a wreath on the door or a ribbon or some greenery on a mailbox. A few houses had lights on the eves but those were just becoming popular then in our part of the world.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    We had one of those silver trees when I was a child. You couldn’t put lights on it, and we had a rotating light that showed different colors and made the tree glow. I remember those tvs, and the cat clocks are now being reproduced. This picture took me back in time. “Away in a Manger” was my mother’s favorite Christmas song. The last verse was her favorite verse, and not everybody sings it. I have also heard it sung to another tune, which I think may be English. Pap and Paul put so much love into this, you can feel it.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 3, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    Looks like Steve has you in some kind of a headlock. Look how he has his hands locked together! Where you able to break it or did you have to tap out?

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    December 3, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    How good it is to hear Paul’s mellow voice and Pap’s wonderful, distinctive tenor. I know you all miss him, and you’re not alone.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    I always thought Martin Luther wrote “Away in a Manger”, but where it was him or Richard Hill, I still like it and Pap and Paul does a wonderful job. Pap’s picking hand jumps like he really enjoys the song, like others he sings.
    Before Christmastime, it was mine and Harold’s job to get our Christmas Tree. We walked thru the mountains to Piercy Creek where we had marked the Perfect Tree, while we were catching Speckled Trout. Most of them weren’t very big, but such fine eating. We’d drag that tree home and Mama loved to decorate it with us. …Ken

  • Reply
    Pam Danner
    December 3, 2017 at 11:56 am

    What a sweet photo, you look adorable and I love the old TV the silver tree and the cat clock on the wall. Papa and Paul did a wonderful job on a wonderful song!

  • Reply
    December 3, 2017 at 9:09 am

    Love Pap & Paul’s rendition on the CD!! Thx for sharing the information of origin.
    Born in 1943, I remember singing it in church & school programs many, many times!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 3, 2017 at 8:20 am

    To our minds at one level we think it sad and unfair the writer does not get credit. But to ‘the better angels of our nature’ a whole new dimension is added because the author is unknown. Perhaps the finest things we ever did were not known as ours. And that gets so much closer to the illusive ‘spirit if Christmas’.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 3, 2017 at 8:13 am

    I think I made this comment last year, my favorite Christmas carol

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 3, 2017 at 8:01 am

    It’s just beautiful, with Pap’s sweet tenor voice it’s beyond beautiful. Very often, Tip, I see that same sweet gentle spirit in you that Pap was known to possess.

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    December 3, 2017 at 7:59 am

    Tipper, I love their harmony!!! Their voices blended so beautifully!!

  • Reply
    December 3, 2017 at 5:58 am

    I love there version of this old song.. and you were soooo cute

  • Reply
    December 3, 2017 at 5:41 am

    The two different tunes for Away In A Manger were kind of a mystery to me as a child! Any time there was carol-singing, you had to wait for the first two notes to knw which one you were meant to sing. Both pretty, though 🙂

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