National Treasure #126: Huron Carol

It’s acknowledged as Canada’s first Christmas carol.

Aside: This raises the obvious question of whether there are other Canadian Christmas carols. My quick Google search confirms my impression: No. Not, at least, in English. Lots of French-language Christmas music certainly exists, sacred and secular, and might include carols for all I know.

I found Canadian songs about winter (and did not see that coming): Lightfoot’s Song for a Winter’s Night, for example. I even found a few about Christmas (like Jimmy Rankin’s Tinsel Town), but none that I could identify as catchy holiday standards or songs that might be sung in church.

It might have been written (circa 1642) in Huron by Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary who was later canonized.

There are lots of versions on YouTube:

Tom Jackson, a Métis Canadian singing in English

Heather Dale, singing it in three languages (Wendat [Huron], French, and English)

Keith Cormier, singing in Mi’kmaq to honour his late grandmother who was Aboriginal but kept this fact from her children and grandchildren

In looking into this, I stumbled over a discussion of whether the song was racist for perpetuating stereotypes about indigenous people. It certainly inserts Algonquian terminology (Gitchi Manitou) into a Huron song. Again, that’s in English. Here’s a link to a more accurate (but less singable) translation of the original lyrics, which certainly suggests that de Brébeuf used images and concepts appropriate to the Huron people: The changes have come through translation for different communities (first into French, then into English).

This post marks another milestone:
the start of the final 25 in this series of 150 National Treasures.

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2 Responses to National Treasure #126: Huron Carol

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    It’s far too easy to be smart after the fact — about 400 years after the fact — but I find myself wishing that de Brebeuf had paid a little more attention to Huron spirituality as well as to their physical artifacts. Rabbit skins and beaver pelts are a lot better than oriental potentates and camels, and make the message more intelligible to the North American context. But wouldn’t it have been nice if he could have capitalized on their notion of “all my relations” to suggest that the baby Jesus was one of them, one with them, and one with the forest and the caribou.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – Maybe he had to leave some breakthroughs for those who came after. For us.

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