Why are you singing ‘Away In A Manger’ like that??

Posted on December 18, 2009 by yankeebean



Ahhhhhhh, they JOYS of spending Christmas in another country (!) Everything that you consider an essential Christmas tradition teeters in peril – what will be kept??  What will be shunned??  What Christmas movies will be on TV??  What heinous desserts will you have to endure??

I guess the truth is that EVERYONE has to adjust to someone else’s Christmas eventually.  You move away from home and start to build your own traditions – keeping the wheat and chucking the chaff (‘Chucking the Chaff’ -> band name!!)

Anyway, I think I’ve adapted to English Christmas pretty bloody well (I’ve thrown the ‘bloody’ in to prove my point…)  Aside from missing my family like an amputated limb, I love Christmas in England.

EXCEPT… (you knew it was coming)

Christmas carols

There I was, at the carol service at my church – singing all the faves like ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘Hark the Herald Angles Sing’.  Christmas glow emanating from my face as I belt these Christmassy essentials in a gorgeous candle lit old church.  Then it’s time for ‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear’ and…


Here I was, expecting the ol’ American classic:

But was confronted by a British surprise…

(unfortunately, neither were sung by Bing Crosby)

I immediately felt like I was trying to cram the round-peg-words into the square-hole-tune.  I know deep down that it ISN’T wrong… but I also know deep down that it FEELS wrong.  It DID come upon a midnight clear, but not like THAT – we must be talking about different midnight clears – are you sure you’re not talking about Boxing Day?

Anyway, I got through it without managing to make too many faces or without clutching my head in confusion.  Yes, yes, I know I’m very brave ;)

And, lo and behold – Away in a Manger offers the same dilemma.  Talk about a song that’s been ingrained in us all since birth – I feel like I sang that song in the womb.  Me and Mr Nice Guy have actually introduced an ‘Away in a Manger’ ban because we both hate hearing the ‘wrong’ version. *shudder*

So, expat shamericans, in addition to adapting to flaming pudding and fist-sized balls of orange-flavoured chocolate from all your acquaintances – get ready to learn some new tunes.  Or boycott Christmas carols (you Scrooge, you.)


When our other fellow SNFY blogger Pacificbird hummed to the wrong Christmas Carol? Click here

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What Others Are Saying

  1. Virginia A Smith November 8, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    Fabulous column, Yankeebean! I’m working my way (happily) through your posts, and am enjoying them immensely.

    • yankeebean November 9, 2012 at 12:10 am

      Thanks for hanging out, Virginia! Loving your blog as well – you’re a fantastic writer!

  2. EGTF December 23, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    I cringe every time I hear the American version of “Away in a Manger”. That “aaaawwwwaaaay” at the start is drawn out too much, seems like a version more suited to a soloist in a choir than folk who can barely sing merrily giving it a go in harmony.

  3. Sirmelja December 23, 2009 at 11:59 am

    Totally agree!

  4. yankeebean December 21, 2009 at 10:43 am


    Last night, sure enough, O Little Town of Bethlehem came outta nowhere. I definitely prefer the American version of that one – the UK version reminds me of a kid’s nursery rhyme…

  5. Starle December 20, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    It is odd. But so many, many x-mas things are different here. I dont miss the ‘jesus is the reason…’ blah though!
    and, oddly…the nativity kids play is cute!
    Will be going to the cathedral for x-mas. no doubt the kids and i will be confused. They have already told me that ‘Father Christmas’ is not the real Santa….

  6. Kim December 19, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    My first Christmas in England my American friend and I headed to the Bath Abbey for a carol concert. We were totally flummoxed and there were lots of WTFs being thrown around!

  7. Kristy December 19, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Oh my goodness – this is so funny! And this happened to me in church my first christmas in England when the congregation sang ‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’ in a completely different tune. It made me feel extra homesick :(

    Not to mention we say the word ‘Bethlehem’ completely different than the English.

  8. Dyana December 19, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    tbh it’s the lack of having Chinese takeaway and going to the movies on Christmas that gets to me. Was talking to a Muslim friend about it and highly suggested she go to the States over Christmas, much more for the non-celebrating to do!

  9. yankeebean December 19, 2009 at 4:22 pm


    Cheesy? CHEESY?? I’m clutching at my chest in despair and disbelief – dude, Bing is the MAN. The smoothest… the crooniest… the Christmassiest! :D

    I’ll avoid going to into the historical evidence and what he did single-handedly for music as a whole. But he was a revolutionary and without him music might be very different today…

  10. crimsondamask December 19, 2009 at 3:11 am

    Much prefer the British version – the Crosby one is soooo cheesy!

  11. Almost American December 19, 2009 at 12:54 am

    You can perhaps understand my confusion when I hear a familiar tune with the wrong words then!

  12. Shaun December 18, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    I suspect you were just unlucky on It Came Upon The Midnight Clear, I think both tunes are equally common in Britain. (That said, for hymns in general the ‘right’ tune can vary according to whether you’re Northern or Southern, Yorkshire or Lancashire, Anglican or Methodist etc…)

  13. Karen, visiting Yorkshire December 18, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Ok, so I’m here with Prince Charming, visiting his mother & we are (me & the 3 kids I dragged over here for the holiday) . . . Jewish. And it’s funny, because here they just smile politely & tilt their head slightly as if you’ve just announced you were an alien . . . it cracks me up because it just doesn’t REGISTER. Now, I’m afraid those we meet will think *all* Americans are . . . aliens :)

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