Posted by: rcottrill | July 1, 2012

A Canada Day Tribute

A look at the population of Canada, as compared to that of the United States, will show that we are about one tenth as populace as the States, though approximately the same in area. If you click on the map in the side bar of this blog, you’ll see that the number of visitors to the site from each country follows the same ratio, one to ten.

Given these facts, it’s surprising the number of hymns and gospel songs that have a Canadian connection. There’s no question that the Britain and other European countries dominate early hymnody, and the nineteenth century belonged to the United States in that regard. But Canada has made a rich contribution to the genre as well.

Likely our earliest is The Huron Carol (“‘Twas in the moon of wintertime…”) written in 1643 by a Roman Catholic priest named Jean de Brebeuf (1593-1649). Of interest is the fact that Jesse Middleton’s 1926 English “translation” is far more syncretistic than the original. It gives the impression that the carol was written to interpret the facts of Scripture in terms the First Nations people would better understand.

Its God (or god) is Gitchi Manitou (Great Spirit). Whether that is identical to the Jehovah God of the Bible is worth careful consideration–as is the attempt to equate the Moslem Allah with the true God. (Allah does not have a Son who is fully God, the second Person in the Triune Godhead.) In the English carol, the Babe was born in a lodge of broken bark, and wrapped in rabbit skin. The wise men become “chiefs from far,” bringing Him fox and beaver pelts, rather than gold, frankincense and myrrh.

While some applaud adjusting biblical accounts to the local or contemporary culture, this kind of tinkering with historical events is dangerous, especially when we are dealing with the inspired Word of God. (One reviewer calls the English version “an incredibly Victorianesque, sentimentalized affair, which borders on being patronizing.”) But the original cannot be faulted in this way. It sticks more closely to a clear telling of the events of the first Christmas.

This aside, on this Canada Day, we can celebrate, and thank the Lord for the contribution we have made to the music of the church. For information on more than two dozen hymns with a Canadian connection, check out my article on Canadian Hymns. (Some of them may surprise you!)


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