"Jesous Ahatonnia”: North America’s First Christmas Carol

Jesous AhatonniaDid you ever wonder which Christmas Carol was the first to arrive in North America? Actually, “Jesous Ahatonnia (Jesus, he is born),” also called “The Huron Carol,” is a product of the North American wilderness, written in 1643 by Father John de Brébeuf, a canonized saint in the Catholic Church. St. John wrote the lyrics to the song in the native language of the Wendat (“People of the Islands,” or possibly “People of the Peninsula”), with the melody coming from an old French folk song called “Une Jeune Pucelle” (A Young Maiden).

How then, does the name “Wendat” change into the name “Huron?” The word “Huron,” is actually of French origin, “and has a few colloquial meanings, such as “spikey-haired ruffian” or “wild boar.” In the Wendat language, there is no /m/ sound, so the early French Jesuit-linguists substituted the /ou/ sound in its place; hence Marie becomes Ouarie. The mission where the song was written is near Midland, Ontario and is called “Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons.” Later, the English speaking people, upon hearing “Wendat” called us Wyandot.

During the time period in which the song was written, great tensions erupted between the French missionaries, the Huron and the Iroquois. The mission was overrun and destroyed in 1649, with St./Fr. La Brébeuf and his associate St./Fr. Gabriel Lalement brutally tortured and killed. The Huron who escaped preserved the hymns and later settled near Lorette, Quebec. Nearly 150 years later, in 1794, the words to the hymn were discovered among the papers of Fr. Etienne de Villeneuve, following his death. This English translation of the text appears in Selections from the Pius X Hymnal (McLaughlin & Reilly Co., Boston). The song is performed by several artists.

I have a clip you can view for free. Click on Genot Picor-Huron Carol to view it on YouTube.


The Huron Carol

Twas in the moon of wintertime, when all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim, and wond’ring 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 beyond 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 heav’n 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 glori