iesous ahatonnia (huron carol) satb
The Huron Carol, perhaps the most revered Christmas carol from Canada, has evolved since its inception (about 1640), so much so that it bears little resemblance to the original version. Iesous Ahatonnia, the original title, was most likely written by Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary working among the Huron in the area north of Lake Ontario, with the intention of bringing pertinent aspects of the Christmas story to the native dwellers. Father Brébeuf was careful to use thoughts and imagery (set to a French tune, Une Jeune Pucelle) that would make sense to his intended audience. However, over the course of time, Euro/American thoughts and predispositions—first French, and then English—have deviated from the original meaning, and of course those thoughts and understandings guided the choices of words and imagery.
This is from Jesse Edgar Middleton’s 1926 version:
Twas in the moon of winter time when all the birds had fled, that mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead
One must admit it a pleasant thought that when the birds had migrated for warmer climes, God (Gitchi Manitou—which is actually an incorrect usage, the Huron did not refer to Gitchi Manitou) sent angel choirs to fill the silence. While this rendition has become perhaps the most used and recognized of the many editions of Iesous Ahatonnia, perhaps because it does fit Euro-American sensibilities, it bears little resemblance to the original.
Although this version of text does not make use of the comfortable, recognizable imagery that appeals to us—the foreigners in this case—it nevertheless deserves recognition as an important and historical work of art.