The Huron Carol.


The “Huron Carol” (or “Twas in the Moon of Wintertime“) is a Canadian Christmas hymn (Canada’s oldest Christmas song), written probably in 1642 by Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons in Canada.Brébeuf wrote the lyrics in the native language of the Huron/Wendat people; the song’s original Huron title is “Jesous Ahatonhia” (“Jesus, he is born“).

The song’s melody is based on a traditional French folk song, “Une Jeune Pucelle” (“A Young Maid”). The well-known English lyrics were written in 1926 by Jesse Edgar Middleton, and the copyright to these lyrics was held by The Frederick Harris Music Co., Limited, but entered the public domain in 2011.

The English version of the hymn uses imagery familiar in the early 20th century, in place of the traditional Nativity story. This version is derived from Brébeuf’s original song and Huron religious concepts. In the English version, Jesus is born in a “lodge of broken bark” and wrapped in a “robe of rabbit skin”. He is surrounded by hunters instead of shepherds, and the Magiare portrayed as “chiefs from afar” who bring him “fox and beaver pelts” instead of the more familiar goldfrankincense, and myrrh.

The English translation uses a traditional Algonquian name, Gitchi Manitou, for God, which is not in the original Wyandot version. The original lyrics are now sometimes modified to use imagery accessible to Christians who are not familiar with aboriginal Canadian cultures.

The song remains a common Christmas hymn in Canadian churches of many Christian denominations. It is also found in several American hymnals. Because the melody spans a modest range, it is ideally suited to instruments that have a limited pitch range, such as the Native American flute.

The song was included, as “Jesous Ahatonia”, on Burl Ives‘s 1952 album Christmas Day in the Morning and was later released as a Burl Ives single under the title “Indian Christmas Carol”. Bruce Cockburn has also recorded a rendition of the song in the original Huron. . A new recording with a very mystical setting of the Huron Carol was released in 2011 performed by The Canadian Tenors.

In 2001, Terry McDade and The McDades recorded a version featuring Indian bansuri on their Free Radio Records release “Midwinter”. In 2002, Heather Dale released a trilingual version (Wendat [Huron], French, English) on her This Endris Night album, updated in 2017 as a YouTube video with an American Sign Language translation.

Listen here to the trilingual version – Wendat/French/English:

Here are the Huron and English lyrics:


The original words of the carol in the Wyandot language (Huron).

Estenniayon de tsonwe Iesous ahatonnia
onn’ awatewa nd’ oki n’ onyouandaskwaentak
ennonchien eskwatrihotat n’onyouandiyonrachatha
Iesous ahatonnia, ahatonnia. Iesous ahatonnia.

Ayoki onkiennhache eronhiayeronnon
iontonk ontatiande ndio sen tsatonnharonnion
Warie onn’ awakweton ndio sen tsatonnharonnion
Iesous ahatonnia, ahatonnia. Iesous ahatonnia.

Achienhkontahonraskwa d’ hatirihwannens
tichion sayonniondetha onhwa achia ahatren
ondaie te hahahakwa tichion sayonniondetha
Iesous ahatonnia, ahatonnia. Iesous ahatonnia.

Tho ichien st’ ahation tethotondi Iesous
ahwatatende tichion stanchitehawennion
asayontorenten ihatonk atsion sken
Iesous ahatonnia, ahatonnia. Iesous ahatonnia.

Onne ontahation chiahonayen iesous
ahatichiennonniannon kahachia handiayon
te honannonronkwannion ihotonk werisen
Iesous ahatonnia, ahatonnia. Iesous ahatonnia.

Te hekwatatennonten ahekwachiendaen
ti hekwannonronkwannion de sonywentenrände
outoyeti skwannonhwe icherhe akennonhonstha
Iesous ahatonnia, ahatonnia. Iesous ahatonnia.[5]


The 1926 English version by Jesse Edgar Middleton.

‘Twas in the moon of winter-time
When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim,
And wandering 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
Enwrapp’d 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 sons 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.”


(Source: Wikipedia)

John Pungente, SJ, the editor of igNation, is currently doing research with Monty Williams, SJ for a third book in the series "Finding God in the Dark".

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 01:42h, 28 December Reply

    Thank you John!

  • Barbara Lewis
    Posted at 08:47h, 28 December Reply

    Thank you for this heartening glimpse of God with us.

  • Esther Buckley
    Posted at 11:15h, 28 December Reply

    I love the words of the Huron Carol . I understand them in the English Version .
    Thank you so much for this beautiful writing during the Christmas season .
    Wishing you lots of success and God’s blessing in 2019 and always.
    Esther Buckley

  • Caroline Maloney
    Posted at 02:54h, 04 January Reply

    Love the Huron Carol! A very blessed day was when I came across a picture book of the Huron Carol. I can’t remember the author/published (got it tucked away somewhere) but the visuals really helped me appreciate the richness of the song. Thank you for this reflection with the English version, to sing over again!

  • Vicky Chen
    Posted at 04:45h, 04 January Reply

    Thank you for this informative article.

  • Ihandich Couture
    Posted at 06:51h, 04 January Reply

    The paragraph(s) above labeled, “ENGLISH”, have nothing to do with Brebuef’s Huron Carol whatsoever.
    History should not be revised to met the needs of Anglophonic pop-culture. Revised versions of Une Jeune Pucelle, should be called such. The Huron Carol’s ENGLISH translation is as follows:

    Iesous Ahatonnia (ee-sus a-ha-ton-nyah= Jesus, he is born)
    Estennia,on de tson8e Ies8s ahatonnia
    eh-sten-nyah-yon deh tson-weh ee-sus a-ha-ton-nyah
    Have courage, you who are humans, Jesus, he is born
    Onn’a8ate8a d’oki n’on,8andask8aentak
    on-nah-wah-teh-wah do-kee non-ywah-ndah-skwa-en-tak
    Behold, the spirit who had us as prisoners has fled
    Ennonchien sk8atrihotat n’on,8andi,onrachatha
    en-non-shyen skwah-tree-hotat non-ywa-ndee-yon-rah-shah-thah
    Do not listen to it, as it corrupts our minds
    Iesus ahatonnia
    A,oki onkinnhache eronhia,eronnon
    ayo-kee on-kee-nhah-sheh eh-ron-hya-yeh-ron-non
    They are spirits, coming with a message for us, the sky people
    iontonk ontatiande ndio sen tsatonnharonnion
    yon-tonk on-tah-tya-ndeh ndyo sen tsah-ton-nha-ron-nyon
    they are coming to say, “Rejoice” (ie., be on top of life)
    8arie onna8ak8eton ndio sen tsatonnharonnion
    wah-ree on-nah-wah-kweh-ton ndyo sen tsah ton-nha-ron-nyon
    “Marie, she has just given birth. Rejoice.”
    Ies8s ahatonnia
    Achink ontahonrask8a d’hatirih8annens
    a-shien-k on-tah-hon-rah-skwah dhah-tee-ree-hwan-nens
    Three have left for such a place, those who are elders
    Tichion ha,onniondetha onh8a achia ahatren
    tee-shyon ha-yon-nyon-deh-tha on-hwah a-shya ah-hah-tren
    A star that has just appeared over the horizon leads them there
    Ondaiete hahahak8a tichion ha,onniondetha
    on-dee teh-hah-hah-hah-kwah tee-shyon ha-yon-nyon-deh-tha
    He will seize the path, he who leads them there
    Ies8s ahatonnia
    Tho ichien stahation tethotondi Ies8s
    thoh ee-shyen stah-hah-tyon teh-tho-ton-ndee ee-sus
    As they arrived there, where he was born, Jesus
    ahoatatende tichion stan chi teha8ennion
    ah-ho-a-tah-ten-nde tyee-shyon stan shee teh-hah-wen-nyon
    the star was at the point of stopping, he was not far past it
    Aha,onatorenten iatonk atsion sken
    a-hah-yon-ah-to-ren-ten yah-tonk ah-tsyon sken
    Having found someone for them, he says, “Come here”
    Ies8s ahatonnia
    Onne ontahation chiahona,en Ies8s
    on-nen on-tah-hah-tyon shyah-hon-ah-yen ee-sus
    Behold, they have arrived there and have seen Jesus
    Ahatichiennonniannon kahachia handia,on
    ah-hah-tee-shyen-non-nyan-non kah-hah-shyah hah-ndyah-yon
    They praised (made a name) many times, saying “Hurray, he is good in nature”
    Te honannonronk8annnion ihontonk oerisen
    teh-hon-an-non-ron-kwan-nyon ee-hon-tonk o-eh-ree-sen
    They greeted him with reverence (i.e., greased his scalp many times), saying “Hurray”
    Iesus ahatonnia
    Te hek8atatennonten ahek8achiendaen
    teh-heh-kwah-tah-ten-non-ten ah-heh-kwah-shyen-ndah-en
    “We will give to him praise for his name”
    Te hek8annonronk8annion de son,8entenrande
    teh-heh-kwan-non-ron-kwan-nyon deh son-ywen-ten-ran-ndeh
    “Let us show reverence for him as he comes to be compassionate to us.”
    8to,eti sk8annonh8e ichierhe akennonhonstha u-to-yeh-tee
    skwan-non-hweh ee-shyeh-rheh ah-keh-non-hon-sthah
    “It is providential that you love us and wish, “I should adopt them.”
    Ies8s ahatonnia

    • John J. Pungente, SJ
      Posted at 11:56h, 06 January Reply

      Dear – Thank you for your comment on The Huron Carol’s English translation. I wonder if you could give some background as I would like to publish the translation you sent but need to put the piece in some context. Thank you. John Pungente

  • John Meehan SJ
    Posted at 09:25h, 04 January Reply

    Thank you, John, for this beautiful reflection. I will share this with my friends in Anishinaabe territory. Happy new year!

  • Peter Bisson SJ
    Posted at 10:19h, 04 January Reply

    Thank you again John!

  • Esther Buckley
    Posted at 11:02h, 04 January Reply

    Beautiful. Thank you .

  • Esther Buckley
    Posted at 16:54h, 06 January Reply

    The response in the third comment re the “Huron Carol “should read the year 2020 and not 2019.

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