The Huron Carol

 

Among churchgoers, the Huron Carol is one of the most cherished and popular Christmas songs. It’s considered the first Canadian Christmas carol.

But in this time of Truth and Reconciliation, some people are looking critically at the history of the song and its lyrics.

At Bathurst’s 2018 Christmas Carol Service, the choir and worshippers once again sang the Huron Carol. But on this occasion, with entirely new words…

‘Twas in the Dark of Wintertime

'Twas in the dark of wintertime when all the birds had flown.
The trees were bare, the wind was cold, the mighty mountains groaned.
The waters froze in rivers deep, and all the earth was fast asleep.

O, Great Spirit, Show us your wisdom that we might learn your ways.

The white man’s thirst for power will for many years remain.
But we must end the hatred that’s been cast In Jesus’ name.
The sinful scoop of innocents so many families, did rend.

O, Great Spirit, Show us your wisdom that we might mend our ways. 

We know that we have caused great pain that may not ever cease.
We feel the call to start again in deep humility.
Your sacred stories we will learn, with open hearts to you, we turn.

O, Great Spirit, Show us your wisdom that we might grow in you.

We yearn to walk in love and peace and heal this broken world
We want to learn a better way, Great Spirit, if we may.
With your help, set our hearts a-flame to welcome God in many names.

O, Great Spirit, Show us your wisdom that we might walk with you


These alternative verses were written by Bathurst United’s Music Director, Beverly Lewis. She invites churches and other non-profit organizations to make free use of the new words.

Beverly says she created the new text after one of the members of the choir, Judi McCallum, told her that she had become uncomfortable with the traditional English text in the United Church hymnbook, Voices United.

Bathurst services begin with a Territorial Acknowledgement. Judi read the acknowledgement at the Carol Service. She then shared her discomfort…

“I now find the stereotypical images of Indigenous life, the mash-up of European and Indigenous cultures, coupled with my awareness of the terrible legacy of the European colonization project in Canada a veritable toxic soup.”

Judi said she appreciates that both settlers and Indigenous People love the Huron Carol. However,

“The carol we know and sing today in the United Church has lyrics written by Canadian poet Jesse Middleton in 1926, and it is here that at least part of the problem lies. It is not a translation of the original lyrics written by Brebeuf in the Wendat language in 1640, but an early 20th century European romantic version of the Nativity story transported into an imagined Indigenous landscape.”

So, one Sunday evening in November, Beverly put her imagination and creativity to work, and after  few hours had written the verses published on this page.

Judi McCallum:

“We premier these lyrics here together today, and I must say that although the song is not really a Christmas song in the strict sense of the word, I love it, and find it very fitting to sing at this concert. It talks back to the Huron Carol, directs us to the sacred stories, and lifts up the notion of birth as it speaks of starting again in deep humility, and in its invocation to God to help us grow in wisdom, peace, and love. Thank you, Bev.”

The December issue of the United Church Observer featured an article that explores the “complex history” behind the song and articulates the concerns.

After the debut of the new lyrics at Bathurst’s Carol Service, the Observer did a follow up story, featuring Bev’s lyrics on its website.