Behind the Christmas Hymn: The First Noel

NoelThis is my mother’s favorite carol, so I wanted to learn more about the origin of the song for her.

Noel is the French word for Christmas. The French word is from the Latin word natalis, meaning birthday.

The song is a narrative of the birth of Christ. The First Nowell is a traditional classical English carol. Researchers believe the song was written in the 18th Century and is of Cornish origin. The song was first published in 1823 “Carols Ancient and Modern” and a decade later in “Gilbert and Sandys Carols.” Both of these volumes were edited by William B. Sandys.

Most arrangements sung today are by the English Composer John Stainer. His version was first published in the “Carols, New and Old of 1871.”

The First Noel has an English folk melody, with one musical phrase repeated twice, followed by a refrain that is a variation of that phrase.