Day 20: The Huron Carol

After her Three Drovers video effort rocketed to the top of the Three Drovers category on Youtube (population: 3) Miss Mussel got all inspired and thought she should do the same for her own country. The choir singing is the Elora Festival Singers directed by Noel Edison and the images come from Flickr. If you like a particular image, wait until the end and you can find out to whom it belongs.

St Jean de Brébeuf, one of the last Jesuit missionaries to the Huron in what would eventually become Canada, wrote the words to this carol in 1643 while he was recovering from a broken collar bone. The tune he used was a popular French melody called Une Jeune Poucette.

Since it was conceived as a way to introduce the Huron to the Christmas story, de Brébeuf sensibly set the carol in the Huron language and then translated the text to simple French.

Here is the text literally translated into English from the Huron language:

Have courage, you who are humans; Jesus, he is born
Behold, the spirit who had us as prisoners has fled
Do not listen to it, as it corrupts the spirits of our minds
Jesus, he is born

They are spirits, sky people, coming with a message for us
They are coming to say, “Rejoice (Be on top of life)”
Marie, she has just given birth. Rejoice”
Jesus, he is born

Three have left for such, those who are elders
Tichion, a star that has just appeared on the horizon leads them there
He will seize the path, he who leads them there
Jesus, he is born

As they arrived there, where he was born, Jesus
the star was at the point of stopping, not far past it
Having found someone for them, he says, “Come here!”
Jesus, he is born

Behold, they have arrived there and have seen Jesus,
They praised (made a name) many times, sahying “Hurray, he is good in nature”
They greeted him with reverence (greased his scalp many times), saying ‘Hurray’
Jesus, he is born

“We will give to him praise for his name,
Let us show reverence for him as he comes to be compassionate to us.
It is providential that you love us and wish, ‘I should adopt them.'”
Jesus, he is born.

In 1926, Jesse Edgar Middleton made an idiomatic English translation that fit the melody. He also replaced much of the Native American imagery that de Brébeuf had included to make Christian symbolism more recognizable to the Huron people with images that would make more sense to white Christians.

‘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.

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.

Serendipitous Facts: There are two rather lovely coincidences involving J. Edgar Middleton. The first is that he was born in the county where the OM Headquarters are presently located. Alert the media.

The second intersection is much more interesting in the sense that it would be difficult to be more boring than the first. It turns out that Middtleton was a member of Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in Toronto of which the Elora Festival Singers currently make up the professional core.


  1. Carolyn Clarke

    Hi, I came across your blog looking for info on Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, and happened to see The Huron Carol link. I loved this carol when I was growing up, although the tune I sang was ever so slightly different (probably corrupted). I was glad to read of the origin and original words to this, and thought your vid was lovely and visually quite moving. Thanks for this!

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