The Huron Carol

As we continue the Christmas season, I want to share The Huron Carol.

Hymns and Carols of Christmas explains:

Written in the Huron language by Jesuit priest Father Jean de Brébeuf in 1643 with the title Jesous Ahatonhia (“Jesus, he is born”), and set by him to an old French tune, “Une Jeune Pucelle” (“A Young Maid”), this is considered the first Canadian carol. It is considered a national treasure and has been celebrated on a set of Canadian postage stamps. In re-telling the story of the Nativity, Father de Brébeuf used symbols that could be easily understood within the culture of the Hurons; it is said that the hymn entered the tribe’s oral tradition.

Tragically, Father de Brébeuf and his companion Father Gabriel Lallemant were brutally tortured and murdered March 16, 1649 when the Iroquois wiped out the Jesuit mission and drove the Hurons from their homeland. Many Hurons escaped to Quebec where the carol re-emerged and was translated into English and French.

The carol has been included in the hymn books of both the Anglican Church of Canada and the Methodist Church. It has also been frequently recorded in recent years. The song was included as “Jesous Ahatonia” on Burl Ives’s 1952 album Christmas Day in the Morning and was later released by Ives as a single with the title “Indian Christmas Carol.” Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn and Tom Jackson have both recorded renditions, as have many other artists.

Copies of the words and music of The Huron Carol are available for purchase from The Frederick Harris Music Co., Limited (link opens in a new window at an exterior site). The text and music version as it appears in most hymnbooks was translated by Jesse Edgar Middleton; the music arranged by H. Barrie Cabena.

Brébeuf was born March 25, 1593 at Condé-sur-Vire, Normandy, France, a son of farmers. He became a Jesuit in 1617, joining the Order at Rouen. He was ordained in 1622, and in 1625 he sailed to Canada as a missionary. On his arrival, he lived with the Huron natives near Lake Huron, learning their customs and language, of which he became an expert; it is said that he wrote the first dictionary of the Huron language. Although the missionaries were recalled in 1629, Brébeuf returned to Canada in 1633.

He is a patron saint of Canada, and his feast day is October 19th. Many Jesuit schools are named after him, such as College Jean-de-Brebeuf, Brebeuf College School and Brebeuf High School.

Brébeuf was canonized in 1930 with seven other missionaries, known as the Canadian Martyrs.

Click here for English audio of the carol

The Huron Carol

‘Twas in the moon of winter-time
When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim,
And wandering hunter 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
Enwrapp’d 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.”

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.”

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