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The Huron Carol

The Huron Carol is known as Canada’s first Christmas Carol. Likely written during the 1640s by Jesuit Father Jean de Brébeuf, The Huron Carol was composed in Wendat (Huron was the Jesuit’s name for the Wendat people) to the melody of the French folk song ‘Une Jeune Pucelle’ (A Young Maid), and describes the birth of Jesus Christ and the Christmas story. The Huron Carol is the most recorded and performed Canadian Christmas carol and is now sung by people around the world.

The Huron Carol was written by Brébeuf to teach Christianity within the context of Wendat language and culture. Brébeuf used Wendat folklore to express Christian concepts (for instance, describing angels as spirits), and likely selected ‘Une Jeune Pucelle’ for its resemblance to Wendat musical tonality. The Wendat’s rich and vibrant musical tradition made song an ideal method through which the Jesuits to successfully teach them Christianity. Although Brébeuf became the first European to become fluent in Wendat, his mission was not accomplished without the help of several Wendat teachers, who directed him on the language’s intricacies and as well on how to convey Christian concepts to the Wendat people. Brébeuf’s Huron Carol blends early Wendat Christianity and European culture, and represents the assimilation of the Wendat into Catholicism.

The Huron Carol slowly grew further from Brébeuf’s original writing as it was translated throughout Europe in the coming centuries. The last Huron Jesuit, Father Etienne Thomas de Villeneuve Girault, was the first to write down The Huron Carol in the 18th century, and it is his rendering that survived. Paul Picard, a Wendat chief, published a translation of The Huron Carol into French in 1899, and it was his interpretation that began to adopt a more European Christian worldview (for instance, Picard changes 'spirits' into 'angels', and saints and the Holy Ghost are included).

The established English ‘translation’ today, first published in 1927 by Canadian writer Jesse Edgar Middleton, is more aptly described as a rewritten carol romanticizing Indigenous culture and history. Middleton’s version borrows from the previous French translation, and the remaining Wendat words were excluded or replaced with Algonquin ones (such as Gitchi Manitou (Great Spirit), which is of Ojibwe origin—a different language family than Wendat). Middleton’s version relies upon stereotypes that play into the noble savage trope, such as “lodge of broken bark” and “ragged robe of rabbit skin”. Middleton’s lyrics are seen as unrelated to Brebeuf’s original version, and appropriative of Indigenous culture.

Though The Huron Carol has changed greatly since its origins in the 1640s, it began as a cross-cultural collaboration between the Wendat and the Jesuits. Since the 1970s The Huron Carol has experienced a period of increased attention as many have been going back to their cultural roots by singing and performing The Huron Carol in its original Wendat version. A literal translation from Wendat to English was popularized, and various Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists have recorded The Huron Carol in Wendat and as well in other languages, such as Plains Cree and Mi’kmaq. Over the centuries The Huron Carol has become part of both Wendat and mainstream Canadian culture, and remains a symbol of early Indigenous-European contact and Canadian history.

The Huron Carol in Wendat, recorded by Father Etienne Thomas de Villeneuve Girault

Ehstehn yayau deh tsaun we yisus ahattonnia

O na wateh wado:kwi nonnwa 'ndasqua entai

ehnau sherskwa trivota nonnwa 'ndi yaun rashata

Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.

Ayoki onki hm-ashe eran yayeh raunnaun

yauntaun kanntatya hm-deh 'ndyaun sehnsatoa ronnyaun

Waria hnawakweh tond Yosehf sataunn haronnyaun

Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.

Asheh kaunnta horraskwa deh ha tirri gwames

Tishyaun ayau ha'ndeh ta aun hwa ashya a ha trreh

aundata:kwa Tishyaun yayaun yaun n-dehta

Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.

Dau yishyeh sta atyaun errdautau 'ndi Yisus

avwa tateh dn-deh Tishyaun stanshi teya wennyau

aha yaunna torrehntehn yataun katsyaun skehnn

Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.

Eyeh kwata tehnaunnte aheh kwashyehn ayehn

kiyeh kwanaun aukwayaun dehtsaun we 'ndeh adeh

tarrya diskwann aunkwe yishyehr eya ke naun sta

Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.

The Huron Carol translated by scholar John Steckley

Have courage, you who are humans; Jesus, he is born.

Behold, the spirit [demon] 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 [angels], coming with a message for us.

They are coming to say, “Be on top of life [Rejoice],

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 many times, saying “Hurray, he is good in nature.”

They greased his scalp many times [greeted him with reverence],

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.

The Huron Carol sung in Wendat, French and English by Heather Dale

Jesous Ahathonhia (Huron Carol) by Sultans of String featuring Crystal Shawanda

Jesous Ahathonhia (The Huron Carol), by Bruce Cockburn

The Huron Carol by Cheryl Bear

An Aboriginal Carol by David Bouchard, Moses Beaver and Susan Aglukark

The Huron Carol by Elora Festival Singers

Huron Carol by Eskasoni Trio

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