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“The Huron Carol”

“The Huron Carol” was originally composed by Jean de Brébeuf (1596-1649), the Jesuit missionary to the Huron Indians in French Canada.  Brébeuf, who was a skilled linguist, wrote the lyrics in the Huron language.  The original Huron title was “Jesous Ahatonhia” (“Jesus, he is born“).  It is an excellent example of missionary contextualization in which the gospel story is told in terms familiar and relevant to the receiving culture.  Much like tradition European carols like “The First Noel” and “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which place Christ’s nativity in a cold and snowy winter scene, “The Huron Carol,” uses images that would resonate with the Hurons.

The English translation below was done by Jesse Edgar Middleton in 1926.  I have attached a choral version of it and then a lovely trilingual rendition (Huron, French, and English) by Heather Dale of a different translation.

‘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 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
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.”

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 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.”

I hope that you have enjoyed this series on Christmas poems.  May God bless you richly this Christmas day.