Learning and remembering
while humbly holding the sentiment of the season
On November 18 we were pleased to be releasing our special recording Under A Winter’s Moon. It’s true this is not your average seasonal recording in that it weaves a miscellany of themes and ingredients one doesn’t always expect – Celtic, Indigenous, Christmas, nature, music, storytelling – and all in one go.
And yet, there is so much more to tell.
In a sense this is a kind of archival piece, a snapshot in time, ‘taken’ last year when we were feeling the effects of cabin fever after being locked up with the pandemic and feeling a great urgency to do something, not just for ourselves but for the community in which I live. To bring a little cheer, as many would say.
The intention was to present something new, as well as familiar, through music and storytelling, to welcome a wider Indigenous voice and to communally experience it.
As someone who has always loved the winter season, it’s a time of year I really look forward to – the silence, simplicity, quiet walks in the wintery countryside, the rituals and traditions involving music, food and getting together with family and friends.
And yet, in this era of reckoning I also accept that history has a lot to teach us, even at this time of the year. This comes into focus when I think of some of the carols we sing and ask when is a carol simply a carol and when might it be something else? This reflecting comes into play with “The Holly and the Ivy” which we perform during the second set of our concert. Before the Middle Ages, holly and ivy were invested with extraordinary powers in the pagan tradition, but by the Middle Ages they had been thoroughly Christianized. Ivy was identified with the Virgin and the holly’s red berries with the blood of Christ, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. One can see this transformation in the lyrics.
Too, there is the “Huron Carol”, attributed to the Jesuit Jean de Brébeuf with its Indigenous connection, which we perform in the first part of the concert. It has a beautiful, haunting melody on one hand, but perhaps with darker origins and colonialist intentions on the other. This is explored in a 2018 article published in Broadview, an independent Canadian magazine featuring award-winning coverage of spirituality, justice and ethical living.
While some Indigenous and non-Indigenous people have interpreted the carol as a marriage between Christian and Wendat belief systems used to bridge understandings and build better relationships, there is clearly much more.
As the Broadview article says,“The writing of Jesous Ahatonnia, as with all de Brébeuf’s work in North America, followed the Jesuits’ particular missionary strategy: full immersion into the culture of the targeted community — including adopting its language and customs — in order to earn people’s trust and convert them.”
Coming upon this deeper historical overview only very recently – and long after our performances and our recording of last year – I feel compelled to share what I have learned and why I think it is important to appreciate this carol in the context of its history and our time. This is particularly important as we’re endeavouring to reclaim our relationship with nature Mother Earth, and embarking on a meaningful path of reconciliation with the Indigenous people of this land.
For me, the Indigenous people of Turtle Island and the ancients Celts have many strands of commonality, in particular their love and reverence for the divinity of the natural world and the endless circle of life, as spoken to by many artists, including the Irish poet John O’Donohue and Indigenous author Tomson Highway in his 2022 CBC Massey lecture series.
Over the years I’ve loved singing the many carols and songs which emanate from the season and are connected to the rhythm and rituals of the land – songs like “Gloucester Wassail” which has roots in the pagan custom of visiting orchards and singing to the trees and spirits in hope of ensuring a good harvest.
This is a time of coming together, of listening and learning, and of remembering and telling these stories and carols, new and old. For those of you who come to sit with us as we unfold our tour performances of Under A Winter’s Moon, or for those of you who may be simply listening to the recording alone or with friends, remember that we are all on a journey of learning and remembering while humbly holding the sentiment of the season.
Peace, Love and Joy.