Daily Archives: December 9, 2010

The Huron Carol

Our own Canadian Christmas song, and one of my absolute favourite carols. So haunting, full of beautiful reverence.

‘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 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.

O children of the forest free, O seed 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.

It was originally written in 1643 by Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit Missionary living among the Hurons in Canada. It was then translated into this modern English version by Jesse Edgar Middleton in 1926.

The original lyrics by Brébeuf were written in the native language of the Huron people, which has largely been lost. Bruce Cockburn recorded a version of this carol sung in the native language, and provided a different translation. His version of the lyrics are significantly different from the well-known version of Middleton’s. As I understand it, it’s a closer, more literal translation, and retains more of the original flavour and sentiment of Brébeuf’s lyrics.

“Iesus Ahatonnia” (“Jesus, He is Born”)

Have courage, you who are human beings: Jesus, he is born
The okie spirit who enslaved us has fled
Don’t listen to him for he corrupts the spirits of our thoughts
Jesus, he is born

The okie spirits who live in the sky are coming with a message
They’re coming to say, “Rejoice!
Mary has given birth. Rejoice!”
Jesus, he is born

Three men of great authority have left for the place of his birth
Tiscient, the star appearing over the horizon leads them there
That star will walk first on the bath to guide them
Jesus, he is born

The star stopped not far from where Jesus was born
Having found the place it said,
“Come this way”
Jesus, he is born

As they entered and saw Jesus they praised his name
They oiled his scalp many times, anointing his head
with the oil of the sunflower
Jesus, he is born

They say, “Let us place his name in a position of honour
Let us act reverently towards him for he comes to show us mercy
It is the will of the spirits that you love us, Jesus,
and we wish that we may be adopted into your family
Jesus, he is born

I find both versions interesting in that they transport the story of Christ’s birth into another time, place, and culture–specifically, Canada in the 1600’s.

I couldn’t find the Bruce Cockburn version online, but came across this one by Heather Dale, that includes the original Wendat (Huron) lyrics.

I grew up singing Christmas carols at school (and at home, and in the shower especially), and have always loved them, particularly the very traditional Christian ones. I mostly fell in love with them for their beautiful melodies, but also for their joyous, and sometimes solemn, lyrics. I did not grow up with the Christian faith, and I’m sure I didn’t really even understand the words I was singing most of the time, but something about them resonated with me, and resonate with me still.

I think this time of year is full of reflection and hope for most people, regardless of religious or cultural backgrounds. As we approach the end of one year and the beginning of another, we all inevitably engage in some form of  self introspection. We ponder over the paths that our lives have taken in the past year, and can’t help but hope for a bright and happy new year ahead of us. But as it is with anything that is as yet unknown, we are also filled with trepidation. And so we pray or wish or hope (call it what you may) for a source of comfort or joy that lies beyond ourselves and our reality.

For me, that is what is so special about many Christmas carol lyrics. They speak of beauty, joy, and hope, and I can readily relate to those messages that are at the core, beyond the story of Christ.


Posted by on December 9, 2010 in Music

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