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 wondering hunters heard the hymn: Jesus Emmanuel, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.
Within a lodge of broken bark the tender babe was found; a ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped his beauty round; But as the hunter braves drew nigh, the angel song rang loud and high: Jesus Emmanuel, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.
(‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime, verses 1-2, by Jean de Brebeuf, trans. Jesse Middleton)
The winter moon shines vibrantly on the snow, these cold, clear winter nights and mornings, reminding me of this hymn. The “Huron carol” was written by a Jesuit priest who started a mission among the Huron people in Canada in the 17th century. It makes me wonder …. What does it mean that a European would try to tell the Christmas story through the language and symbols of a native people? My suspicious side says it is yet another attempt to force cultural assimilation and drain meaning from native religions. My hopeful side says that the story of Jesus also brings a critical perspective to every culture, and particularly those cultures that have enjoyed a dominant place economically, socially, and politically. The birth of God-with-us clashed with the Roman Empire, and it even now it critiques and challenges the powers of our day.