Away in a Manger is the story of a mother, Sandra, taking her daughter, Amy, to see the Christmas lights at George Square in Glasgow. The story is written in third-person limited, focused on the thoughts and feelings of Sandra:
Away in a Manger is set at Christmas time. Amy has been
gaun on aboot the lights for weeks and is excited to see them. Sandra, in comparison, is exhausted by Christmas. She is a working-class mother who has been working extra hours at her job in a shop. Sandra cherishes her daughter and wants her
tae have nice things, even if she cannot necessarily afford them.
Amy is entranced by the decorations of:
Reindeer and Santas, holly, ivy, robins, all bleezin wi light
Amy's amazement at the lights conveys a child’s perception of Christmas as being full of wonder. In comparison, as a shop-worker, Sandra is aware of the commercialism that drives the festive period. She describes:
late-night shoppers, trippin ower wan another tae buys presents that’d be returned on Boxin day, everybody in a bad mood
When walking around George Square, Sandra realises the extent to which homeless people occupy the benches. They have
newspapers neatly smoothed oot like bedclothes. The magic of the lights is quickly overshadowed by the issue of homelessness, a problem that Sandra remembers from when she was a little girl.
Amy reveals that her favourite carol is Away in a Manger. Sandra takes Amy over to the square’s nativity scene to show her a manger. When they are looking at the scene, Amy spots a man sleeping behind one of the nativity statues. He is
slightly built and despite the cold weather is:
dressed in auld jeans and a thin jaicket
Sandra realises he is a homeless person who is using the nativity scene as a warm place to stay. Amy asks Sandra if the man is an angel, and her mum explains that he might be homeless.
Sandra quickly regrets having told Amy the truth, not wanting to spoil her innocence by making her aware of the social issues in their home city. Amy wants the man to stay in their house because they have a spare room. Sandra firmly refuses this idea because
we don’t know him and leads her daughter away.
While they are waiting at the bus stop, Sandra gives money to a papergirl with
a pile of papers in her airms. Amy falls asleep on the bus home, and Sandra looks down at
her sleepin bairn who is resting on her shoulder and then:
oot again through the windae, intae the dark night
This moment highlights Sandra’s love and concern for her child. The darkness suggests that, although Sandra wants to protect her daughter from the problems of the world, it may not always be possible.