Christmas: The Story Behind “The First Noel”

story behind the first noel

Hi, friends. While this carol is one of the most popular ones I’ve covered, its backstory is more mysterious than one might expect. The song really centers on the magi, but the first (and best-known) verse focuses on angels, so I threw it into the “angel-themed” line-up. 🙂

The original author of these lyrics remains unknown, though the song originates from Cornwell (in Southwest England) and was written sometime in the early modern period (approximately 1500-1800 CE).

Click here to read some interesting info about the purpose of carols in those days. (Hint: Spread message of Christ’s birth to the illiterate)

Willliam Sandys and Davies Gilbert collaborated on a hymn book called Carols Ancient and Modern in 1823, where the current version of this song appeared. They edited and added lyrics. English composer John Stainer arranged the music it’s usually sung with, publishing it in Carols, New and Old in 1871.

The term “Noel” is an early modern English word for “Christmas.” It came from the French term “nouel” (now “noël”). Some also believe the term connects to another French word, “nouvelle,” meaning “news.” The angels brought life-changing news to the shepherds on the first Noel!

Hymns generally have some variation over time, but since this song’s source is especially obscure, the lyrics vary drastically over time and in different hymnals. I’ll post the lyrics we tend to use today.

Lyrics

The first Noel the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
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
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

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
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

This star drew nigh to the northwest
O’er Bethlehem it took its rest
And there it did both stop and stay
Right o’er the place where Jesus lay
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

Then entered in those Wise men three
Fell reverently upon their knee
And offered there in His presence
Their gold and myrrh and frankincense
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the kind of Israel!

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 has bought
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

Love her voice!

Thanks for reading! Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays to all! ♥

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26 responses to “Christmas: The Story Behind “The First Noel””

  1. Wow. Great insight. I need to create time to read up the other stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The history behind hymns can be so inspiring! Hope your family had a wonderful Christmas with your family, Efua!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sure did. Hope yours was good too?

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  2. Merry Christmas!♥️🎄☃️🎁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hope your big family had a great Christmas, dear! ♥

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bri with the thoughts Avatar
    Bri with the thoughts

    Thank you so much Lily I learn son everyday. Merry Christmas as well ✨

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hope you and your son had a wonderful Christmas, Bri! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bri with the thoughts Avatar
        Bri with the thoughts

        Thank you so much Lily. We did & I hope your holidays with your family is awesome as well.

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  4. Merry Christmas Lily! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hope your Christmas was warm and wonderful, Miss Suziey. ♥

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Lily! Happy New Year!! 😀

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  5. Enjoyed reading this. Carrie Underwood has a beautiful voice. Merry Christmas 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She does! Hope you had a great Christmas surrounded by your family and students old and new, Matt!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I spent all day with 3 different refugee families. How was your Christmas?

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  6. Introverted Evangelist Avatar
    Introverted Evangelist

    Merry Christmas Lily 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hope you had a lovely Christmas, dear! 🙂

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  7. […] Christmas: The Story Behind “The First Noel” | Retrospective Lily […]

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  8. Merry Christmas, Lils! Have a wonderful celebration 🎄🎉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Steven! Hope your holidays are warm and wonderful! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Merry Christmas Lily! Sweet T and I have tickets to see Carrie in concert next year. She’s got an awesome voice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, I bet that will be an awesome concert; maybe you can do a post on it. Hope you and Sweet T had a very merry Christmas!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Beautiful carol and I enjoyed the information. Hoping you had a Merry Christmas and will enjoy the full blessings of the Lord in 2019.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, dear. Happy New Year to you as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I always enjoy when you share hymn stories. I hope you had a great Christmas and have a blessed 2019.

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  12. […] For the origins of this carol see Retrospective Lily. […]

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