Canada’s First Christmas Carol Was in Huron Language
Around the world, voices are lifted in song to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus. Whether one adheres to the Christian belief system or not, the fact remains that the music is quite stirring.
One such song is Canada's first Christmas carol, written in the early 1640s by Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary living among the Huron of Quebec.
"Twas in the Moon of Wintertime" is not just notable for being Canada's oldest home-grown carol. Le Brébeuf also wrote it in the Huron's native language, and furthermore he adapted the tale to Huron culture, wrapping the baby Jesus in rabbit skin instead of swaddling, locating him in a broken bark lodge rather than a manger, and with hunters instead of shepherds. Gold, frankincense and myrrh were replaced with furs—offered by Indian chiefs rather than Wise Men, according to the History of Canada Online website, which also posts the lyrics.
Since then the piece, whose melody came from a French folk song, has been a staple in Canadian carol repertoirs. Here are a few renditions. This first one is sung by Heather Dale in Wendat (the Huron language), French and English.
This second one is by the Canadian Tenors, with the English lyrics that Jesse Edgar Middleton wrote in 1926.
And here it is sung in Micmaq by Keith Cormier, who found out only after her death that his grandmother had been aboriginal—and died without having told any of her progeny. He puts on a yearly variety show to benefit the Corner Brook Fire Department's annual toy drive in Newfoundland and Labrador, and set out to learn the song in Micmaq to honor his grandmother.