A Singer and a Song

Today, on the day of Christmas Eve (awkward I know, but I don’t know how a whole day can be called an eve), I am going to present a lesser known Canadian, Heather Dale, singing a lesser known Christmas song, The Huron Carol.

We were introduced to Heather Dale at Celtfest two summers ago. Celtfest presents a variety of talent-levels, but almost all of the music is good. So, when Heather took the stage, we didn’t know what to expect. What we heard, however, was a highly accomplished singer-musician. She sings, largely, in the Celtic tradition but usually with her own modern lyrics. Dale performs in house concerts all over North America. (Aside: when I see and hear talents like hers, it boggles my mind how some wonderful artists remain obscure while so many mediocre talents make trillions of dollars.) One thing of many that I really like about Heather is the clarity of her voice. Doggone it: even I with the fuzzy ears can hear most of the lyrics. And if I am not in a listening mood, the voice and the tunes are more than sufficient.

On her website, I found that she has a winter/Christmas album; when I listened to the snippets, I chose several to download from iTunes. I could have downloaded them from her site, but I was already selecting other tunes from the Apple site, and one transaction seemed better than two.

One of the tunes was the Huron Carol. What I especially like about Heather’s rendition is how she does the first verse in the Huron language, the second in French, and the third in English. How Canadian! Using the three languages pays tribute to the origins of the song (see below) but also makes it current for this unilingual, English-speaking guy. To my ear her native intonations sound very authentic.

I also want to talk more about The Huron Carol, but first let’s get to the tune. The lyrics are right below the video clip, and here is the YouTube link since some can’t seem to see some of the embeds.

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.

Words: Jean de Brebeuf, ca. 1643; trans by Jesse Edgar Middleton, 1926
Music: French Canadian melody (tune name: Jesous Ahatonhia)


The Huron Carol lyrics were written in 1648 by Jesuit missionary, Jean de Brébeuf. Working among the Huron nation near what is now Midland, Ontario, he decided to tell the Christmas story in native terms: God is named the Gitchi Manitou; the shepherds become hunter braves; and, chiefs came from afar to bring Him “gifts of fox and beaver pelt.” What a remarkable idea by Brébeuf; he certainly was ahead of his time — by centuries, I would say.

Brébeuf was killed in an Iroquois raid, and the Hurons dispersed in various directions: some to Oklahoma and some with the Jesuits to Quebec. “But the Huron people continued to sing the carol. It was sung in the Huron language for one hundred years.” Subsequently, it was translated into French and later into English.

Huron CarolThe story is told by Frances Tyrrel as an appendix in a beautifully illustrated book, The Huron Carol, Tyrrel creates wonderful artwork to go along with the text of the carol. You can get an idea of the quality of his illustrations by checking out the cover to the left. While I am tempted to scan more, I refrain in deference to Tyrrel’s rights although I don’t think the book is still available. She does have many more titles, however: most of them with a Christmas theme.

The Huron Carol is one of Cuppa’s many Christmas books that she brings out from wherever the heck she keeps them to display every year at this time.

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2 Responses to A Singer and a Song

  1. This Really appeals to me! Love it…I’ll go visit her site.
    Thanks Ac….Merry Christmas to you and the family!
    hughugs

  2. Ruth says:

    A beautiful rendition of one of my favourite carols. I will have to look her up in iTunes. Wishing you a Merry Christmas with your family.

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