Sunday, December 28, 2014

Huron Carol

Inuit mother and child, ca. 1912, Library of Congress collection.

Christmas had been swept into grocery carts in the front aisle and reduced for quick sale by the time I got to the grocery store last evening, which seems too bad.

On the other hand, with much of the 12-day season remaining and the imperative to be merry now subdued, there's plenty of time to relax a little and enjoy; take a walk in the woods maybe, appreciate the bright lights before they flicker out, listen to carols, look ahead to Epiphany.

I've been listening this morning to various versions of the Huron Carol, perhaps the oldest to originate in the Americas. 

It was written about 1642 by Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary among the Huron people in Canada, in the Huron/Wendat language. The English lyrics, not a translation but an interpretation based upon the original, were composed in 1926 by Jesse Middleton, a Montreal and Toronto newspaper reporter, utilizing imagery thought appropriate at the time --- the Algonquian name for god, Gitchi Manitou, for example..

In retelling the Epiphany story, instead of camel-jockey wise men bearing gold we have,

"the chiefs from far before him knelt,
with gifts of fox and beaver pelts."

Although more widely sung in Canada than the United States, versions of the carol do appear in Episcopal, United Methodist and ELCA hymnals.

And while at other seasons of the year I'd joyfully be cranky about the checkered record of Christian missionaries among indigenous peoples, today I'm just enjoying the carol.

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