The Huron Carol I’m making a big departure for this week’s selection in my series Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth. I’ve been doing carols for Advent and Christmas connected to my Johannine Advent book and synchroblog, and this week the carol selected in the book wins out over the requirement that it be of my youth. I’ve selected The Huron Carol, and though it predates me by more than a few years, it was never part of my youth; I only discovered the carol as an adult. Most Canadians now will know it from Tom Jackson‘s Huron Carole series of Christmas benefits.

[ RSS Readers will need to click through ]

I was surprised to not find Tom Jackson signing this on YouTube. I found a French version recorded in an igloo in Quebec, but the sound wasn’t very good.

Then I discovered a version by Heather Dale from her Endris Night album. This Endris Night I’ve heard of Heather Dale, just never really listened to her music… but after hearing this and exploring her site a bit, I’m on a quest for more. Of The Huron Carol, she writes, “I always assumed that the 20th c. English ‘Twas In the Moon of Wintertime’ was a fairly faithful adaptation of the original, but it really doesn’t do it justice. This translation by H. Kierans is far more elegant and respectful of Native traditions, in my opinion.” Fittingly, she sings in Wendat (Huron), French, and English. More than the other versions I’ve heard, Dale’s has a melody and “feel” that I imagine it might have had in 1643 in its original Huron setting (have you started the player yet?). Bearing in mind her comment on the lyrics, I inserted two of her verses into the four I already had… the ones she sings end with “Jesous ahatonhia” instead of “in excelsis gloria,” and I have to say they add something. Following links from her site, I also found the image I used to create the graphic above, as well as those below with the lyrics, and a translation and pronunciation guide in case anyone else is struck by the urge to sing it in the original language! ;^) I’m struck by the image of warriors and chieftains instead of shepherds and magi… from whatever culture, they are the high and the low.

Here’s the introduction I gave it in the book:

The carol I have selected for the week is unfortunately also not as well-known, though recordings exist by Tom Jackson, Bruce Cockburn, and others. The Huron Carol (or “T’was in the Moon of Wintertime”) was written in 1643 by Father Jean de Brébeuf, a missionary at Ste-Marie among the Huron people in Canada, and has the distinction of being the first Canadian Christmas carol. It was written as a gift to teach the Huron people the story of Christ, originally in the Huron language and uses an Algonquian name, Gitchi Manitou, for God. The carol was not translated into English until 1926, at which time it was made from the French translation. The original title, Jesous Ahatonhia, meaning “Jesus, he is born” was also changed at that time. Some more “Christianized” lyrics exist for the song, but the original lyrics tells the story of the birth of Jesus using imagery that is familiar to the native peoples to whom the song was given. Though some have had difficulty with parts of it, I prefer to keep these little bits of contextualization intact as a reminder of the words of the angels that the birth of the Messiah would be for all peoples, and in Simeon’s words, “a light to the Gentiles.”

And the carol itself:

The Huron Carol Jesous Ahatonhia (The Huron Carol)

‘Twas in the moon of wintertime
when all the birds had fled
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim
and wondering hunters heard the hymn,
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
in excelsis gloria.

Within a lodge of broken bark
the tender babe was found;
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
enwrapped his beauty round
But as the hunter braves drew nigh
the angel song rang loud and high
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
in excelsis gloria.

The Huron Carol O children of the forest free,
O sons of Manitou
The holy Child of earth and heaven
is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant boy
who brings you beauty, peace and joy.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
in excelsis gloria.

Three chieftains saw before Noel
A star as bright as day;
“So fair a sign,” the chieftain said,
“Shall lead us on our way.”
For Jesu told the chieftains three:
“The star will bring you here to me.”
Jesous ahatonhia, Jesus is born
Jesous ahatonhia

The Huron Carol The earliest moon of wintertime
is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory
on the helpless infant there.
The chiefs from far before him knelt
with gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
in excelsis gloria.

Let Christian men take heart today,
The devil’s rule is done!
Let no man heed the devil more
For Jesus Christ has come
But hear ye all what angels sing:
How Mary maid bore Jesus King
Jesous ahatonhia, Jesus is born
Jesous ahatonhia

Share This

Share this post with your friends!