Tuesday, December 11, 2007

December 11

"The Huron Carol"
performed by The Elora Festival Singers

'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!"

The words of this Christmas hymn were written in 1643, by Jean de Brébeuf, who was a Jesuit missionary at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, near Midland, Ontario, Canada. Brébeuf wanted to tell the Christmas story in a way the Hurons could understand, so he composed this Christmas carol, using the native language of the Huron/Wendat people. The song's original Huron title is "Jesous Ahatonhia" ("Jesus, he is born"). The melody is a traditional French folk song, "Une Jeune Pucelle" ("A Young Maid"). The essential message - of the miracle and promise of new life and new hope in the midst of dark and bitter winter - was very "acceptable" to the Huron people, and is one we can all share today.

Even after Jean de Brebeuf's death in 1649 at the hands of the rival Iroquois, the destruction of the Sainte-Marie settlement, and the dispersal of the remaining Huron people, the survivors of the brutal attack still celebrated the nativity each winter and kept the carol alive through the oral tradition. Almost 100 years later, another Jesuit priest heard the carol and wrote it down. It was translated into French under the title "Jesus est ne." In 1926, poet J.E. Middleton wrote an English interpretation that is widely known today.

I highly recommend the spectacular book, "The Huron Carol", which is beautifully illustrated by Frances Tyrrell. It includes the music for The Huron Carol, the only surviving verse in the old Huron language, and two verses from the eighteenth century French translation.


mrinz said...

What a beautiful hymn, and a fascinating story behind it!

I have just looked them up on Google and am reading a bit about their history. They seem to have been a very well organised nation, but decimated by wars.

I have learned a lot through your post!

shawn said...

Ah the FIRST Canadian Christmas Carole - GOOD choice.

You should have tracked down one of Tom Jackson's versions - his voice, and this hymn is absolutely amazing ... then again, I'm biased. I've helped over the last five years in a number of tiny, tiny way to help co-ordinate his various visits to West Man ...

Candygirlflies said...

Mrinz-- I'm so glad you like the carol! I thought you'd enjoy it, especially since you were so good as to tell me all about another very special carol from New Zealand!

Shawn-- I am particularly partial to this version, not only for the spectacular choral arrangement, but also because it features a chamber choir very close to my heart, "The Elora Festival Singers". There is a WONDERFUL summer music festival in the little town of Elora, Ontario every year, and this choir was formed to perform as a part of it. They have now made several recordings, and I am SO proud to share their music with all of you. We are indeed fortunate to have such artistic excellence here in Canada!

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