Appalachia Christmas Music

Away In A Manger

steve and tipper 1970 christmas

Steve & Tipper Christmas 1970

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- 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 aways 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 it 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 Away In A Manger.

We are very grateful and humbled by all you folks who have purchased Pap and Paul’s Songs of Christmas cds-THANK YOU! It really is packed with some of the best Christmas music I have ever heard. You can go here-Pap and Paul’s Music to purchase a cd.



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

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  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    December 15, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    I hope nothing’s wrong over at your
    house. I had a 1/4″ of snow this
    morning. (not braggin’ or anything!)
    When I came in today about 2 pm, I
    noticed the Blind Pig hadn’t posted
    any comments. Enjoyed Paul and Pap
    singing “Away in a Manger” and all
    the background information leading
    up to the song. Thanks,…Ken

  • Reply
    lynn legge
    December 15, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    aww tipper that picture is so darling.. you are just as sweet today.. sending much love and happiness your way… enjoy the holiday season. isnt the Good Lord woderful with all the blessings he has given us ..
    love the music.. and have been enjoying the cd of the boys… i think hubby is tired of hearing me trying to sing along.. (kinda like alfalfa )
    big ladybug hugs

  • Reply
    Phyllis S
    December 15, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Thank you for a perfect version
    of this beloved Christmas song.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 15, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    I know, I know…I am “scrolling today” but I could not help but comment on the sweet picture at the tope of your post! What a beautiful littl baby girl you were! Steve looks so sweet there as well, holding on to his “slippery sliding sister!”
    I sure remember those all aluminum Christmas trees..Did your Mom and Dads have a rotating color light wheel to go with it?
    I have sold the wheels when I can find them! Also, the aluminum trees, too, they are scarce!
    So many folks are collecting both.
    The cat clock that it’s tail swings while it eyes move to the tick tock is very pricy as well today. I finally found one for a customer a few years ago that just had to have one to put in his 50’s 60’s house decor.
    Me…I’d rather have the sweet little children for my part!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 15, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    I had never thought about the connection of Martin Luther and the War. It seems to me that I always knew the carol “Away In The Manger!” I know we sung it in elementary school..I started first grade at 5 in 1941…
    I had read that the poem was written a long time before a melody was written, some time ago. It is a beautiful carol and one that is especially loved by chaperones when doing an reactment by the “creache” for the “Nativity”.
    “Away In The Manger” was my sons favorite song. Their childrens school Christmas chorus did and exceptional rendition of the song…of course I was prejudice…
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…Back in the day when the milkman left milk at the door…the company would have the delivery man slip a small booklet with the milk. It was a sort of card from them for the season. It had all Christmas carols in it. Momma saved all of hers and now I have them, going into a scrapbook…It had the name of the company stamped on the back of the booklet. Always had a pretty Christmas scene on the the front of family, tree, angels etc. How many companies would dare to give out little Christmas Carol booklets today? I did get a card from my paper carrier…and a Calender from the insurance company for 2014…
    PS Again, I have a big pot of “suet” rendoring on the stove. It is cold and I am in the bird food making mode! I have my pinecones ready and all the stuff I mix with the suet when it begins to cool….NOW HEAR THIS>>>Used to be you got “suet” the hard fat next to the beef kidney, FREE, nowadays we were shocked that the meat department charged us $1.00 lb. Seems when they get some on the beef that has to be cut off, they put in what they call the oil barrel! Will this be our car fuel???

  • Reply
    December 15, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    I am really enjoying your articles relating to the history of our Christmas Carols. I always enjoyed listening/singing them, but never really knew many of their histories.

  • Reply
    December 15, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    That was one of the first Christmas songs I learned as a child. A group of children taught me the song in Spanish several years ago. When I try to sing it now I tend to combine the two languages.

  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    December 15, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Playing the cd at work every day. Everybody loves it.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 15, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Whatever became of the cat clock up in the corner? Looks like it’s about 9:35 AM.

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    December 15, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Very interesting history on this Tipper and I love the song. Beautiful as always. It’s one of my favorites.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, Ph.D.
    December 15, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Tipper: Now that is a precious photo of you two. I hope your SUNDAY MORNING IS AS NEAR PERFECT AS OUR MORNING!
    We will once again listen to the SONGS OF CHRISTMAS as we enjoy a winter breakfast!
    Season’s Greetings,
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    December 15, 2013 at 9:32 am

    The song was great as usual Tipper. Enjoyed the history of the song.
    If a picture is worth a thousand words, that little boy spoke volumes with that hug he was giving his little sister! Our family was kind of like yours, my older brother, myself, and our baby sister. That picture was worth a thousand words! Steve was serving notice, “This is MY baby sister!”

  • Reply
    steve in tn
    December 15, 2013 at 8:57 am

    I like these posts about song history…esp when linked to a great version of the song. Thx

  • Reply
    December 15, 2013 at 8:54 am

    I agree with you, both versions have a folk song sound to them. does the one in the Lutheran hymnal have a melody similar to (with first phrase the same as) “Flow Gently Sweet Afton”? That’s the only other “common” version I’ve learned.

  • Reply
    December 15, 2013 at 8:48 am

    And there are two quite different tunes that I have heard sung for this song – isn’t that amazing??

  • Reply
    December 15, 2013 at 8:24 am

    Tipper, this is just beautiful! Couldn’t help but lend this old alto voice to the blend of soprano and tenor. Next time we come to Sylva, think I will come on’a your house and sing a little harmony with the boys. Hmm… …maybe bring my keyboard along. 🙂 happy baking, shopping, decorating and wrapping–in that order–and keep it merry!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 15, 2013 at 8:10 am

    That is a precious picture, Tipper. Even then you looked like an angel.
    The song is beautiful and fit for a baby angel or a baby son of god.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    December 15, 2013 at 8:06 am

    sweetness, peaceful, reverent, wonderfully done.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    December 15, 2013 at 7:21 am

    Thanks for sharing the story behind “Away in a Manger.” Probably many, as I, thought Luther was the author of the words. And thanks, too, for allowing us to hear Pap and Paul’s rendition of it! I enjoy their music so much! Wherever we are, and whatever Christmas carol is coursing through our minds or coming from our lips, may the songs afford us pleasure, insight and inspiration at this holy season. Christmas is “Emmanuel”–God with us!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 15, 2013 at 7:21 am

    Another favorite, I guess I am partial to all of them.

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