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Members of Bathurst United sing at a previous Christmas carol service. (Photo: Bathurst United/Facebook)

Huron Carol takes on a whole new meaning with these lyrics

The Christmas service mainstay has been beautifully reinvented by a Toronto choir director.

By Emma Prestwich

'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime, or the Huron Carol, is a favourite tune in many United churches. But the lyrics many of us know were written by a non-Indigenous person. Not only do they bear little resemblance to the original Wendat lyrics, they feature stereotypical imagery that is not reflective of Wendat culture. So one church music director came up with new lyrics that acknowledge the impact of colonialism and Canadians' role in reconciliation.

Bev Lewis, the choir director at Bathurst United in Toronto, composed the new words after a member of her choir, Judi McCallum, mentioned her discomfort with Jesse Middleton's 1927 arrangement. "She didn't ask me to do it, but she suggested it, so I thought it might be an interesting challenge," Lewis says. "I learned certain things about the plight of the Indigenous in Canada and I guess what I've heard informs the writing."

She also wanted it to be less overtly Christian than the previous version.

Bathurst members sang the new lyrics at their service on Dec. 16, and Lewis said other churches are welcome to use them as well. 

"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," wrote McCallum in an introduction to the new carol.

Here are the new words, which are set to the same music:

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

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