Five Reasons “Away in a Manger” is the Worst Christmas Song Ever

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I love Christmas music. I believe my unblemished record of staunch Christmas musicophilia on Rambling Ever On says it all. Yet, not all Christmas music is created equal. For every transcendent O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, there is a painfully awful Last Christmas. For every majestic Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, there is the horrifyingly terrible Christmas Shoes. So, while I love Christmas music and celebrate it every year, I don’t embrace every Christmas song out there. Case in point: Away in a Manger. As bad as the previously mentioned songs are, they aren’t nearly as terrible as the manger song, due to its insidious nature. It poses as a beautiful, sacred song. It gets played on Christian radio. It gets sung to small children. It even has the audacity to get sung in church! I reject it. Yet its soul is as black as night. I reject all of it. Here are my five main reasons.


It is biologically fraudulent

Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way. Jesus was fully God and fully man. Which means He was fully baby. If Jesus had been born and then placed in a manger, and did not cry at any point, as the song states, something would have been terribly wrong with Him. Babies cry. It’s a good thing they cry. Doctors make sure they cry as soon as they are born to test their lungs. Babies cry when they are hungry and thirsty. They cry when they need to be held. If Jesus did not cry then He was developmentally stunted. And we know that is not true. Which leads me to point number two.


It is emotionally manipulative

At its core, Away in a Manger is a lullaby. It seems to have been written for the express purpose of convincing children to go to sleep. So the wording used in the song is deliberately manipulative to that end. The thinking behind must have gone something like this – “Good little children want to be like the “little Lord Jesus”, right? Well, He didn’t cry so they shouldn’t either. And if they do cry, then they are not like Jesus at all.” That is almost unconscionable.


It is poorly written

I get really irritated with songs that change perspective. Away in a Manger is a big offender in this regard. It starts off third person for the first three stanzas but suddenly goes into first person on the three final and climactic stanzas. Why? Because the writer ran out of more drippy examples of insipid, idealized first-century life? Or because the writer wanted to really pour on the guilt trip for the listening children that were struggling to go to sleep like good little boys and girls? Or was it because the songwriter wanted to include some lame declaration of love to the “Lord Jesus.” I say lame, not because loving Jesus is lame, but because tacking it on at the end like that is sloppy, ham-fisted, and obsequious, not to Jesus, but to the listeners in an attempt to convince them that this is truly a good, Christian song.

And the line, “no crying He makes” is just bad poetry on every level. Did Yoda get co-writing credit on this or something?


It is patronizingly ordinary

The incarnation of Christ is one of the most miraculous and amazing things to ever happen. It is good to sing songs about it. It is good to be brought to worship thinking about it. What Away in a Manger does is take that magnificent event and turn it into a sickly-sweet, mushy, touchy-feely mess. Shepherds, angels, and kings worshipped this child, and the best this song can do is celebrate his sleeping, his sweet little head, and that he didn’t cry? O come let us adore Him indeed!


It is theologically bankrupt

I don’t expect deep theological truths from every song. One of my all-time favorite Christmas songs, O Holy Night is not the most theologically impressive song out there. But it is poetic and beautiful and contains enough truth to make it worthwhile. Away in a Manger is none of those things and is most definitely not worthwhile. Beyond the silly stuff about Jesus not crying – which contradicts the rest of the Scriptural account of His earthly life – the final stanza is a hodgepodge of pseudo-religious sounding phrases mixed with shockingly modern day spiritual sentimentality. Let’s unpack it, shall we?

First, Jesus is not “looking down from the sky” and if He were why would he look down from the sky “and stay by our cradles til morning is nigh”? I guess you could argue that the writer is trying to say that Jesus is everywhere, but if that is so, why start with the idea that Jesus is looking down from the sky?

Second, the penultimate stanza has the singer asking Jesus to be near them, or us. We don’t have to beg Jesus to stay near us. He has promised to be with us in his Word. Many times, actually.

Third, when you further examine that stanza, you come upon an even worse question –  “love me, I pray.” Once again, not necessary as it has already been promised. And to make this even more ridiculous, this song is about Jesus as a baby – His incarnation. What more proof did this writer need of Jesus’ love than this act of complete sacrifice? “Look, I realize that you just gave up Heaven and your power, and you came to earth as a human baby, with all the awful stuff that entails, but do you think you can do something else to prove to me that you love me?”

Finally, the last stanza closes things out in spectacularly wrongheaded fashion. It starts off okay with a request for blessing for all the children that are in Jesus’ care. I can get on board with that. It ends with a request for Jesus to take us all to Heaven to live with Him there. It doesn’t work like that. Jesus doesn’t just take everyone to heaven. That’s where repentance and salvation come into play, but let’s not get hung up on the very foundation of the Gospel or anything!


This Christmas, listen to as much music as you can. It is a profitable and worthy endeavor. Yet, for the sake of your soul, and the souls of those around you, avoid garbage songs like Away in a Manger. While there are probably more aesthetically offensive Christmas songs out there – I’m looking at you Christmas Shoes – there is no song that is as deviously evil as Away in a Manger. It cloaks itself in religious language and holy imagery, in a vain attempt to hide the utter darkness of it’s twisted and corrupt heart. Flee from it my friends. Flee for your lives.

Phill Lytle

I love: Jesus, my wife, my kids, my church, my family, my friends, Firefly, 80's rock, Lost, the Tennessee Titans, the St. Louis Cardinals, Brandon Sanderson books, Band of Brothers, Thai food, music, books, movies, TV, writing, Arrested Development, pizza, vacation, etc...

18 thoughts on “Five Reasons “Away in a Manger” is the Worst Christmas Song Ever

  • December 22, 2017 at 10:16 am
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    You’ll get some kick back because of the nostalgia involved. I’ll just say there are many Christmas songs with much sounder and stronger theology (Hark the Herald Angels Sing, por ejemplo). I’m glad there are so many, and that new ones are continually coming along.

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    • December 22, 2017 at 10:27 am
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      We welcome the kick back.

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      • December 22, 2017 at 5:07 pm
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        Hahaha. What are lowing cattle doing? How does a cow low?

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  • December 22, 2017 at 2:01 pm
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    It’s funny because it’s true.

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  • December 22, 2017 at 2:13 pm
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    Kudos for getting both “ham-fisted” and “obsequious” into the same post. You’re not trying to hit a year-end quota from your Word of the Day calendar, are you? :)

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    • December 22, 2017 at 2:30 pm
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      …maybe

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      • December 22, 2017 at 3:00 pm
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        I as well enjoyed the word usage in this article. I also think it makes some fine point. Not to sound like an REO sycophant.

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  • December 22, 2017 at 7:13 pm
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    I agree and disagree. Here are my takes on your points.

    1. While Jesus was most certainly 100% human in His body (which would include His infant state) and therefore would have most certainly cried a lot, the song does not say that He never cried. It merely states that when He awakened after hearing animal noises that He didn’t cry. No one knows this for certain; but the song is creatively written in its supposed presence at the manger. It’s verbal art.
    2. Yes, the song is a lullaby. Some say it was written by the great Martin Luther as a lullaby for his own children (though most evidence leads to this not being factual, but still somewhat feasible). I do agree with you on your point though. But what parent in moments of exasperation don’t do similar things. It’s very normal.
    3. I agree on this point. It is poorly written, which is why I most certainly think Luther did not write it.
    4. I see your point, but totally disagree. The beauty of God coming to Earth is that He came in a patronizingly ordinary way. Yes, angels heralded His coming, shepherds ran to meet Him, and the Magi traveled an extreme distance to offer gifts of rare value to Him. But no one else that we know of did anything. There was no fanfare for Him, not even room in a relative’s house in Bethlehem for Him. He was an extraordinary God in the form of an ordinary human baby.
    5. You have 4 sub-points in this one point. So I will take them one at a time.
    A. The last time that Jesus was physically seen by humans, He ascended into the clouds. The Bible make it clear that He will return in the air, and those who trust in Him will meet Him there. Why is it wrong then, for a poet to use imagery of Him looking down from the sky?
    B. James 4:8 says “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” I guess you don’t like the old church song “I am thine, O Lord (Draw me nearer)” either? Obviously, God is always near to us. But He is also jealous for our affection and attention. He could be near by, and we still hate Him. The author of this song wasn’t disputing God’s omnipresence. He was acknowledging that Jesus was close by and his need for Him. Don’t you want all people to acknowledge that idea?
    C. The last stanza clearly transitions from Jesus as a baby in a manger to the reason for Him ever being a baby in a manger. It even calls Him “Lord Jesus,” not baby Jesus. This last stanza is a plea for “Lord Jesus” to be present in an individual’s life. Please tell me your viewpoint of salvation again?
    D. My great-grandfather often prayed to God aloud in the presence of his family and churches that “May we number in heaven as many as we number on earth.” Do you not pray for others, especially your children, to know God’s salvation? As a lullaby written for children, that’s all the author is doing in the last line, in a poetic way.

    I do find it very amusing that you loathe the song “Away in a manger,” and point out its many theological errors (which are only your opinion and not based upon solid evidence). Yet you laud the song “Hark the herald angels sing!” in which the first line of that song adds to Scripture. Luke 2 says “And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and SAYING…” The Bible never mentions that the angels were singing. I guess you will have to stop singing that theologically rich song now, because of the obvious addition.

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    • December 24, 2017 at 8:36 am
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      The idea that the angels sang is not a “theological error”. It’s an interpretation of words of praise in poetic form. I would not be dogmatic about it one way or another. I have often heard Mary’s words in Luke 1:46-55 and Zechariah’s in 67-80 referred to as “songs” though neither text says they “sang”.

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      • December 24, 2017 at 7:13 pm
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        I never claimed it was a theological error. Read what I wrote again. The article above said “Away in a Manger” was theologically bankrupt, and pointed out seeming errors or contradictions of known theology within that song. I was merely pointing out that “Hark the herald angels sing” adds to the wording in Scripture. That point is not debatable.

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        • December 24, 2017 at 7:40 pm
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          You implied it to me. But I’m not going to argue That to death. I can argue about it “adding” to it. We have no idea How they spoke to the shepherds. You’re parsing it too far. In 40 years of church life I can’t recall anyone making the same complaint about Mary in the Magnificant. I know intelligent Christians that argue that Moses is singing in Genesis 1-2. They are not adding to anything. They’re interpreting. Regardless that’s a far cry from the issues presented above in AIAM.

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  • December 24, 2017 at 1:40 am
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    “take us to heaven to live with the there.” Here I thought we were to pray for the return of Christ to earth along with it’s restoration, not our escape from it.

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    • December 24, 2017 at 8:37 am
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      I can’t recall right now for sure, but I think this is mentioned specifically in SBH, that marvelous book we reviewed nearly two years ago now.

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  • December 24, 2017 at 11:14 pm
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    No big qualms with most of the article, and there are certainly better choices for carol of the year. However, I think we should put it into context. Is it not possible that some of what passes for bad writing to us comes from the fact that it certainly was not written in English? Perhaps we should take issue with the translator…. I know that the French version is not badly written. In addition, in Europe, there is a different melody that many use, and that I tend to prefer.

    And a quibble: It is not uncommon in the Psalms to go back and forth from first to second to third person and back again. Indeed, it is something that provides tons of enjoyment to scholars, pastors, and commentators, trying to figure out who is doing the talking sometimes!

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    • December 25, 2017 at 8:41 am
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      Funny you mention translations…we haven’t sung this at Northwest since I cannot remember when (I do not think our current worship leader likes it for similar reasons above) but the Spanish translation we have in our LIveWorship I think is even worse than English. Though I don’t know if there are others out there. The one I know could be cast back into English in a way that makes it sound like Jesus never cried ever (and not just after he woke up, which I still think is a bad line in English). And it has the idea of taking us to “mansions” in Heaven.

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    • December 25, 2017 at 8:48 am
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      Changes in person and tenses in songs and poems also often provide important points to consider in and of themselves.

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    • December 25, 2017 at 10:55 am
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      Allan, thank you for your comment.

      Without getting too deep into this, as it was meant more as a funny, lighthearted take on this song, I will address a few of your points.

      Yes, it is a translation. I will take your word that the original wording is better. Of course, I cannot speak to that as I do not know the original wording. I know the version we sing in English. And that is the wording I am criticising. My guess is, most people do not even realize it is a translation.

      I completely understand your point about perspective. And that is not always a problem for me. But I find that often, in modern music, it is lazy writing. The writer really wants to make a point but the only way they can figure out how to do it is to change which person is making said point. I feel this song fits that description well.

      As I said though, this was meant as a silly rebuke of a popular Christmas song. And as you said, there are many better Christmas carols we can sing, so we are in agreement there for sure.

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      • December 26, 2017 at 10:14 am
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        I laughed, Phill.

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