Sunday, December 23, 2012

'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime: A "First Nations" Christmas Carol

The first time I heard this Christmas carol, I couldn't help but think of the Song of the Dwarves from The Hobbit. The tunes are not dissimilar.

What I love about this carol is its deep sense of place. It transports the birth of Jesus into a forest, among hunters, with rabbit skins and beaver pelts. It is the nativity of Christ saturated and mystified under moon of French and Canadian 17th century hills.

"Swaddling clothes become rabbit skin, the manger is a lodge of broken bark, the wise men are chiefs, and the gifts they bring are not frankincense and myrrh but gifts of fox and beaver pelt. The point is not to alter the truth but to tell it: 'the holy child of earth and heaven is born today for you,' whoever and wherever you are" (Paul Westermeyer, Hymnal Companion for ELW)

"This is the earliest 'first nations' Christmas carol and the earliest Canadian hymn we know about. It can be traced to Jean de Brébeuf, Jesuit priest and missionary... Jesse Edgar Middleton, a journalist born in Ontario wrote this free English rendering of it, which contains more Huron imagery than the original."

The tune itself is a French noël, "Une jeune pucelle de noble coeur." It has influences of the same period, but the underlying musical material likely predates the sixteenth-century Reformation (which may be why it sounds like the Dwarves Song).

I used Garageband to record the track, and did some sleight vocal effects.

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