Thursday, January 2, 2014

Christmas in the New World

One of the most unique Christmas carols you are likely to hear, is the Huron Carol. It was composed by the Jesuit missionary and martyr, Fr. de Brébeuf, who worked amongst the Hurons in Canada in the early to mid 1600s. It is the first North American carol ever written, and, though Fr. de Brébeuf, adapted the melody from an old French tune, the original lyrics were in Huron, and he adapted the traditional imagery to reflect the culture of his Indian converts.

These are the English lyrics that are most commonly sung to the tune. It is inaccurate to say that they are a translation of the original, even taking into account poetic license. However, they are rather beautiful, and the imagery poignant, so accurate or not, I have a great fondness for this version. (There is a more accurate translation to be found here.)

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 wond'ring 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 heav'n
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.

And here is a really cool cover of the song by Heather Dale, which features lyrics in Huron, French and English.  I find it very fetching:

1 comment:

Molly said...

Well phooey. I feel like I'm turning into a real Chatty Cathy here, but you've really picked some gems, and it seems like someone should tell you so. I've scarcely heard a one of 'em before. I've most certainly never heard "The Huron Carol" in Huron! That was quite a lovely arrangement, too. I wonder if the backup singers did a few bars that were subsequently looped, or if they were keeping up that chant the whole time; either way, it was an impressive feat of tone and rhythm.