Sunday, January 3, 2016

Translation: The Huron Carol

"Reconstruction of a Huron longhouse for the film "Robe Noire," site of la Nouvelle-France, Saint-Félix-d'Otis, Québec, Canada [tr. Amanda Grace Shu]." By Pierre5018 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

I know what you're thinking. What's a Christmas carol post doing on my blog in January? Do I not know that Christmas is over?

Well, to that I say, 1) Hey, it ain't over until Epiphany happens, and 2) I didn't have this translation ready at Christmas, because I didn't discover this song until after Christmas, and I can't stand to wait another year before sharing this with you all.

The Huron Carol is Canada's oldest Christmas carol, written by a Jesuit priest named Father John de Brébeuf, later canonized as one of the patron saints of Canada. (Yes, yes, here I must admit I'm American, not Canadian, but I'm a nerd, so of course I know who the patron saint of Canada is.) Father John lived among the Wendat/Huron people and wrote this carol in the Wendat language, making this one of the first texts written in Wendat. A popular English translation was created by Jesse Edgar Middleton in 1926, but his translation has been criticized for its confusion of different native cultures and Western use of broad generalizations about what they think "Native American" culture should be. Nevertheless, alternative translations are few and limited to a few verses as in the Heather Dale cover of the song in English, French, and Wendat.

I discovered this carol through Heather Dale's song and went digging for a direct translation from Wyandot to English, the only one of which I found at Diversity Tree. Andrea Shallay, author of the Diversity Tree article, writes: "I was moved by the intimate and respectful tone of the original lyrics. Instead of using made-up native images to fit a nativity story, it is a theological discussion tapping into images and values shared by both Christian and traditional Huron beliefs. Cultural references are not thrown around lightly, nor is the meaning of the images compromised for either party. It is not a tool for conversion because the lyrics require the Huron people to share what was important to them just as Father de Brébeuf could share what was important to him. I find the traditional lyrics of the Huron Carol to be a carol of respect and cultural exchange, attempting to translate meaning across cultural boundaries."

With this as my mission statement and both the direct English translation and the French translation as my guides, I set out to write a rhyming, metrically-fitting English translation of the Huron Carol. Note: I do not speak Wendat at all and am not a member of the First Nations. If my translation is inaccurate, disrespectful, or is surpassed by a translation written by a member of the Huron tribe, please defer to those from whose culture this song comes. If you are a member of the Huron tribe or speak the Wendat language, do not hesitate to contact me with notes on this translation. I am always eager to learn more.

Ehstehn yayau deh tsaun we yisus ahattonnia
O na wateh wado:kwi nonnwa 'ndasqua entai
ehnau sherskwa trivota nonnwa 'ndi yaun rashata
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.

Have courage, all you humans, for Jesus Christ has come
The spirit who enslaved us1 now is fled and dead and done
Oh, listen to his sayings not, for he corrupts our every thought
Iesus Ahattonia, Jesus is born, Iesus Ahattonia.

Ayoki onki hm-ashe eran yayeh raunnaun
yauntaun kanntatya hm-deh 'ndyaun sehnsatoa ronnyaun
Waria hnawakweh tond Yosehf sataunn haronnyaun
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.

The okie spirits2 from the sky have come to say, "Rejoice!"
Their message for the world is sung in a resounding voice
"For Mary's given birth," they say, "a virgin given birth today!"
Iesus Ahattonia, Jesus is born, Iesus Ahattonia.

Asheh kaunnta horraskwa deh ha tirri gwames
Tishyaun ayau ha'ndeh ta aun hwa ashya a ha trreh
aundata:kwa Tishyaun yayaun yaun n-dehta
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.

Three men of great authority are trav'lling from afar
To see the child, they follow Tiscient, horizon's star
That star will walk upon the bath to guide the three men on their path
Iesus Ahattonia, Jesus is born, Iesus Ahattonia.

Dau yishyeh sta atyaun errdautau 'ndi Yisus
avwa tateh dn-deh Tishyaun stanshi teya wennyau
aha yaunna torrehntehn yataun katsyaun skehnn
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.

The star stopped3 near the place where Mary's child, Jesus, did lay
And, having found his place of birth, Tiscient's star did say,
"Come here, O men, come here, for I can hear the little infant's cry!"
Iesus Ahattonia, Jesus is born, Iesus Ahattonia.

Eyeh kwata tehnaunnte aheh kwashyehn ayehn
kiyeh kwanaun aukwayaun dehtsaun we 'ndeh adeh
tarrya diskwann aunkwe yishyehr eya ke naun sta
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.

4They entered and anointed him with oil from a sunflow'r
And said, "We will respect this child, for he shows mercy's pow'r.
It is the spirits' will that he does love us as his family."
Iesus Ahattonia, Jesus is born, Iesus Ahattonia.

1 This is not an equivocation of the Wendat spirits with the Christian Devil, but a reference to a specific spirit, possibly "Man made of Flint," the "Bad Twin" of Wendat lore.
2 The phrase "okie spirits" was taken directly from Diversity Tree's translation. I have not found any usage of this term in the Wendat lore that I have read, nor an explanation of what it refers to.
3 Here the Diversity Tree translation changes tense from present to past. I do not know if this is reflected in the Wendat language, as I was unable to find notes on verb tenses in Wendat.
4 This last verse is a consolidation of two separate verses in the Diversity Tree translation, which has six stanzas total. As I was only able to find five stanzas of the song in Wendat, I was conflicted about what to do and would appreciate feedback on why this discrepancy occurs.


  1. There's an interesting compilation of translations here:

    And an article with John Steckley's translation here:

    For some reason, I didn't find the above links or your post last month when I was searching around for a new translation! I had only seen

    which quotes John Steckley's more literal, but non-metrical translation ( and makes reference to Heather Dale's version (only two stanzas) and Julie Pyle's version. I ended up writing this instead, based on Steckley:

    1. Take courage, men of every race; Jesus the Christ is born.
    The evil ghost he giveth chase; our prison chains are torn.
    Heed not the voice of him who flees; our minds and souls his words disease.

    2. The spirits of the sky descend with tidings for us all:
    “The height of life be yours and render joy over the pall.
    Lo, Mary mild has given birth; rejoice ye all, be full of mirth!”

    3. Where land and sky meet, Tichion shines to lead three elders there;
    the walking star with maid aligns to show the babe she bare.
    And stopping near to Jesus he calls to the men, “Come in and see!”

    4. Arriving, they beheld the child, of flesh yet still divine.
    They greased his scalp with reverence while declaring, “Praise be thine!
    He comes with mercy for our sake; his love doth us his children make.”

    I combined verses 3&4 and 5&6 from Steckley's translation. Many options to choose from now, it seems!