Away in a Manger

The political scene still strikes me as incredibly boring—a sad testament to how jaded our politics have become, that we don’t get more riled up about impeachment proceedings.  It’s also a testament to the perfidy and disingenuous of congressional Democrats:  everyone knows the articles of impeachment are a politically-motivated farce and, to use GEOTUS’s preferred name, a “witch hunt.”

It’s sad that President Trump will be impeached, and I’m nervous that squishy neocons and RINOs in the Senate will betray him.  That would be the ultimate kick in the teeth—the elites backhanding their own citizens for daring to challenge their aloof rule.  I shudder to contemplate the fall out should conviction and removal in the Senate occur.

Until then, it’s all a distracting media circus, with the Democrats and press engaged in a frenzied dance around the cannibal’s pot.  Even then, it manages to be incredibly dull.  At least actual cannibals have some conviction.

All that said, let’s look at more Christmas carols!  Next up:  “Away in a Manger.”

“Away in a Manger” is one of those sweet, simple tunes that perfectly evokes the Christmas season.  The Christ Child is sleeping soundly in his manger—“no crib for a bed”—while cattle low in the distance, waking Him up.  The stars are looking “down where He lay.”  It’s all quite cozy and peaceful.

Apparently, there is some controversy about the carol’s origins.  Many hymnals, including the Free Will Baptist Hymnal from which I play every Sunday, attributes the tune and lyrics to Martin Luther.  That attribution is incorrect, but dates back to the nineteenth century, when the hymn was often added to hymnals and compilations as “Luther’s Cradle Hymn.”

Like many hymns and carols, the musical setting for the tune varies.  The “Mueller” version, first published in 1887, is the most common one (or, at least to me, is the proper setting for “Away in a Manger”; your mileage may vary).  I’ve seen the “Cradle Song” version (sometimes hymnals feature both versions), and it always confuses me.  The “Mueller” possesses a certain sweetness, and the descending melody (like “Joy to the World“) has a certain memorable quality to it.

The “Cradle Song” version seems more childlike, which is appropriate, perhaps, but it comes across as a bit of a kiddie song to my ear.  It also seems to want to move faster than the “Mueller,” which proceeds at a leisurely andante.  The “Cradle Song” version trucks along, almost in a “one” feel, whereas the “Mueller” is a statelier 3/4.

Wikipedia offers several other settings, which makes for interesting perusal.  “Home, Sweet Home” (not the Mötley Crüe song, but an 1880 popular tune) is the earliest known setting for the carol, but not nearly the most popular.

Regardless, I always lump “Away in a Manger” in with a similarly themed tune, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”  They both, in my mind, fall into the “peaceful Christmas carol” category.  Indeed, while playing an engagement party gig Saturday night, I played “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and one of the attendees remarked, “This is so peaceful; I could fall asleep right now.”

This sweet, sleepy little hymn, however, carries even more controversy.  Some critics accuse it of the docetism, the heresy that argued that Christ’s earthly Body was merely an illusion or, at best, a vessel for the purely divine Christ, rather than the fully God, fully Man that Christians believe.  Their support for this heretical interpretation is that the baby Jesus in the carol does not cry.  A closer reading, though, offers a better explanation:  He doesn’t cry because He is asleep!

All musicological and theological controversies aside, “Away in a Manger” is another of the wonderful, winsome tunes of the season.  It deserves its spot among the great Christmas carols.

8 thoughts on “Away in a Manger

  1. My English friend says that the “Cradle Song” version by American William J Kirkpatrick from about 1885, is the version most used in Britain, which given the overlap is probably why we so often see both versions. I have seen the “Cradle Song” version listed in the program and nobody (including the organist) paying the slightest attention and all concerned using Mueller. Tradition is a heckova drug.

    She also says there are about 40 more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, you’ve got that right! The Mueller version is the one I’ve always known and loved; I imagine if I’d cut my teeth on the “Cradle Song” version, I’d prefer it. The way the “Cradle Song” melody is written does, in my mind’s ear, want to go faster. I’ve never played it for a service (it’s not in our hymnal, only the Mueller version), but I’ve picked it out before when I’ve come across it in other hymnals. It just seems too fast for a song about a sleeping baby (although, to be fair, it could be played more slowly).

      Liked by 1 person

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