From folk song to hymn, nitpicking and semantics aside, “The First Nowell,” or “The First Noel,” whichever you prefer it makes no difference, the message is the same–Jesus Christ is born.
A traditional English carol, the song is in the public domain and many arrangements exist. The original version can be traced to the 17th century. The first published “modern” versions appeared in the early 1800s, most likely in the 1823 Some Ancient Christmas Carols by Davies Gilbert, or the 1833 Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern by William Sandys.
Bible scholars like to pick it apart, claiming it loosely follows Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus in Luke 2 and Matthew 2, while confusing the association of a star with the shepherds, when actually it’s the star that leads the wise men to the stable. Who can say the shepherds didn’t see stars in the night sky? Really?
I just like to hear it and sing it.
All together now and don’t forget the refrain:
Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!
Born is the King of Israel!
The First Noel
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.
For all to see there was 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.
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.
This star drew nigh to the northwest:
O’er Bethlehem it took its rest;
And there it did both stop and stay,
Right over the place where Jesus lay.
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.
Then entered in those wise men three,
Full reverently upon their knee,
And offered there, in his presence,
Both gold and myrrh, and frankincense.
Between an ox-stall and an ass
This Child there truly born was;
For want of clothing they did him lay
All in the manger, among the hay.