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Now it feels like Christmas because yesterday Ray and I attended the Cookeville Community Band’s Christmas concert. In my opinion, the crowning moment of their Christmas concert each year is when they play “Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson. I love to listen to and watch this song played live. It is so fun to experience the percussionists mimicking the sleigh bells, the whip, and even the horse’s whinny.

The theme of this year’s concert was Christmas Around the World. One song that was new to me was “The Huron Carol,” which is a beloved Christmas song in Canada. It is considered to be the oldest Christmas carol in Canada, and perhaps the oldest in North America.

The Hurons are a native people who lived in North America when Europeans arrived. During their history, they lived on both sides of what is now the Canadian/American border. My interest was piqued when the announcer said that a Jesuit missionary wrote the song in 1642. Knowing that my French Canadian ancestor Pierre Boucher had arrived in Canada seven or eight years before the song was written, that he studied with the Jesuits, and that he worked with the Jesuits while they lived among native peoples, I was excited to find out if Pierre had any connection with the song.

I did some research last night and learned that Jesuit priest Jean de Brébeuf wrote “The Huron Carol.” Pierre Boucher lived among the Huron people in their villages around Fort Saint Marie in the area that is now Midland, Ontario. Jean de Brébeuf was among the priests serving as a missionary to the people of those villages during the time that Boucher was there. Brébeuf became an expert in the language of the Hurons and translated many books into their language. On one occasion, Pierre Boucher, Jean de Brébeuf, and another priest were all attacked and injured by native people.

Boucher lived among the Huron and assisted the missionaries for four years, leaving the Huron villages in 1641. It was one or two years afterwards that Jean de Brébeuf wrote his carol. The song tells the story of the birth of Jesus and the songs of the angels. It encourages the Hurons to bow before the Baby Boy.

The Iroquois later attacked the Hurons and Jean de Brébeuf was killed in one of their raids. The Hurons were scattered and some followed the Jesuits to Quebec. The Hurons continued to sing the carol Brébeuf had written for them. The carol was later translated into French, and in 1926 Canadian journalist Jesse Edgar Middleton loosely translated it into English.

In 1952 American singer Burl Ives included “The Huron Carol” on his album of Christmas folk tunes, called “Christmas Day in the Morning.” The title given on that album was “Jesous Ahatonia,” which means “Jesus, He is Born.” “Jesous Ahatonia” is the song’s original title in the language of the Hurons. In 1962 Ives released a single with “Twelve Days of Christmas” on one side and “Indian Christmas Song” on the other. His “Indian Christmas Song” was “The Huron Carol.” Burl Ives is probably best known today as the voice of the snowman in the animated feature, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

In 1977 Canada released a set of Christmas stamps based on “The Huron Carol.”

I loved learning the story of one of the world’s many Christmas carols written to honor Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Baby born in Bethlehem.

Nativity. Courtesy Library of Congress.
A Nativity Scene on the Square of the Plaza de la Cathedral at the Havana Cathedral, Cuba. Courtesy: The Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son;
and she wrapped Him in cloths,
and laid Him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:7



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  1. I found a youtube video performed by Heather Dale, and sung in Wendat (Huron), French and English. Absolutely beautiful. Thought others might want to google (either The Huron Carol or Heather Dale) to hear the song–and this version is performed so well. Thank you for sharing the story of this carol.

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