"Huron Carol" (Canada's First Christmas Carol)


Georgian Bay, a shore of Lake Huron (Canada) near where the Huron carol was written. Photo: Guy Hanford/Unsplash

It's fun to conclude Native American Heritage Month, once again, with an Advent song. I was excited to learn about the "Huron Carol." More info below:


The "Huron Carol" (or "Twas in the Moon of Wintertime") is a Canadian Christmas hymn (Canada's oldest Christmas song), written probably in 1642 by Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons in Canada. Brébeuf wrote the lyrics in the native language of the Huron/Wendat people; the song's original Huron title is "Jesous Ahatonhia" ("Jesus, he is born"). The song's melody is based on a traditional French folk song, "Une Jeune Pucelle" ("A Young Maid"). The well-known English lyrics were written in 1926 by Jesse Edgar Middleton and the copyright to these lyrics was held by The Frederick Harris Music Co., Limited, but entered the public domain in 2011.


The English version of the hymn uses imagery familiar in the early 20th century, in place of the traditional Nativity story. This version is derived from Brébeuf's original song and Huron religious concepts. In the English version, Jesus is born in a "lodge of broken bark" and wrapped in a "robe of rabbit skin". He is surrounded by hunters instead of shepherds, and the Magi are portrayed as "chiefs from afar" who bring him "fox and beaver pelts" instead of the more familiar gold, frankincense and myrrh. The English translation uses a traditional Algonquian name, Gitchi Manitou, for God, which is not in the original Wyandot version. The original lyrics are now sometimes modified to use imagery accessible to Christians who are not familiar with the cultures of Canada's First Peoples.


Because the melody spans a modest range, it is ideally suited to instruments that have a limited pitch range, such as the Native American flute.


I'm only going to post the original lyrics and a more accurate English translation below:


Wyandot language:

Estenniayon de tsonwe Iesous ahatonnia

onn' awatewa nd' oki n' onyouandaskwaentak

ennonchien eskwatrihotat n'onyouandiyonrachatha

Iesous ahatonnia, ahatonnia. Iesous ahatonnia.


Ayoki onkiennhache eronhiayeronnon

iontonk ontatiande ndio sen tsatonnharonnion

Warie onn' awakweton ndio sen tsatonnharonnion

Iesous ahatonnia, ahatonnia. Iesous ahatonnia.


Achienhkontahonraskwa d' hatirihwannens

tichion sayonniondetha onhwa achia ahatren

ondaie te hahahakwa tichion sayonniondetha

Iesous ahatonnia, ahatonnia. Iesous ahatonnia.