THE FIRST NOEL written in 1833
“Noel” is a French word that may have come from either the Latin word natalis meaning “birth” or the Latin word novella meaning “new”. In one sense “noel” refers to the whole Christmas season; in another it refers to the good news that announces Jesus Christ has come. The first Noel, the song says, was sung by an angel to poor shepherds. The chorus rings out like a message from the corner paper boy: “News! News! News! Hear all about it! The King of Israel is born today!”
Early folk carols such as this one often had a memorable chorus and several verses, each presenting some new angle to the story. An individual or group could sing a verse, maybe one newly made up, and the whole crowd would join in on the chorus.
“The First Noel” was first published in its present form by William Sandy (1792-1874) in 1833.
This Christmas hymn is memorable for at least 2 reasons:
1) It is incredibly difficult to sing.
The first verse seems to fit the tune structure… but all the remaining verses have to hold syllables over several notes or squeeze syllables into a single note. It seems forced… and that makes it difficult to sing.
2) It is incredibly difficult to sing.
It is a beautiful song to be sung as a solo. So, when it is sing well, it is remembered as one of the more beautiful Christmas songs.
Read this Christmas hymn, and – today – imagine what it might have been like to have heard that “first noel”.
The first Nowell the Angel did say was to certain poor Shepherds in fields as they lay.
In fields where they lay, keeping their sheep, in a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell. Born is the King of Israel.
They looked up and saw a star shining in the East, beyond them far,
and to the earth it gave great light, and so it continued, both day and night. (Chorus)
And by the light of that same Star, three Wise Men came from country far,
to seek for a King was their intent, and to follow the Star wherever it went. (Chorus)
This Star drew nigh to the North West; o’er Bethlehem it took it’s rest.
And there it did both stop and stay, right over the place where Jesus lay. (Chorus)
Then did they know assuredly within that house, the King did lie;
one entered in then for to see and found the Babe in poverty. (Chorus)
Then enter’d in those Wise Men three, full reverently upon their knee,
and offer’d there, in His presence, their gold, and myrrh, and frankincense. (Chorus)
Between an ox stall and an ass, this Child truly there born He was;
for want of clothing they did Him lay all in a manger, among the hay. (Chorus)
Then let us all with one accord sing praises to our heavenly Lord;
that hath made Heaven and earth of nought, and with His blood mankind hath bought. (Chorus)
If we in our time shall do well we shall be free from death and Hell;
for God hath prepared for us all a resting place in general. (Chorus)