Sunday, December 16, 2007

Music of Christmas: The Huron Carol

For the third Sunday of Advent, I am featuring the first Canadian Christmas carol written in 1643 by Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary to the Huron people.

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons is on Georgian Bay about an hour or so north of Toronto. I remember going there on a class trip when I was in 5th grade and seeing the place where Brebeuf and seven other missionaries were martyred during an Iroquios attack. The historic site has been rebuilt and is visited by thousands of tourists and students each year.

The carol was originally titled Jesous Ahaotonhia and was set to the tune of a French folk song. Bruce Cockburn recorded the carol in its original language in his album Christmas. The lyrics as he sings them are translated into English as follows. (I like this translation entitled Jesus He is Born a lot!)

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 path 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

In 1926, Jesse Edgar Middleton wrote the English lyrics used today for the Anglican hymnal.

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 is sung here by a very popular Canadian acappella group, The Nylons.


  1. I had forgotten about that one. Glad you hadn't.

  2. That is just such a lovely post - thank you!

  3. Nice post! You are combined history, music, and the spirit of Christmas all rolled in to one.I'm part Iriquois but I'm not happy with some of the things that I learned of their past.

  4. AC- ...have to promote Canadian content ;-)

    Jean- Thanks. I have always liked this carol.

    Larry- Any ethnic group has something in their past that is unpleasant. You have an interesting heritage and the native Americans were not always treated well by the Europeans.

  5. Ruth, I've never seen the words to this carol before. Just beautiful! Thanks for posting them. Have a wonderful Christmas.


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