‘First Noel’ has roots in Latin

The 12 Carols of Christmas

By Tim Colliver - [email protected]

Editor’s Note — Christmas has been described as being one of the few holidays with its own “sound track.” The Times-Gazette today presents the final chapter of our special 12-part series on “The 12 Carols of Christmas,” relating the stories behind some of the best-loved sacred songs of the season.

The word “Noel,” Robert Morgan wrote in “Then Sings My Soul,” seems to be of French origin with roots in Latin.

In Latin, the word “Natalis” means birthday.

Those old enough to remember old TV commercials may recall the images of Santa riding over snow-covered hills atop a Norelco shaver, with the company cleverly leaving out the ‘R’ in their name and proclaiming “Noelco — even our name says ‘Merry Christmas.’”

The old carol had an original title of “The First Nowell,” according to the 1878 book “Carols Old and New” and is assumed to be of Cornish origin.

Its current form was first published anonymously in the 1823 hymnal “Carols Ancient and Modern” and “Gilbert and Sandys Carols,” which appeared a decade later, both of which were edited by William Sandys, with arrangement, editing and extra lyrics written by Davies Gilbert for his publication “Hymns and Carols of God.”

Morgan said that although Gilbert was credited with the lyrics to “The First Noel,” the traditional music came from an unknown source in the western part of England.

He described the poetry as plain, and said that if he were to recite the lengthy piece it would leave the reader with only a “garbled sense of the Christmas story.”

As with several of the carols of Christmas, he noted that there was no indication in scripture that the shepherds ever saw the star the wise men followed, and that modern church hymnals left out three of the song’s original seven verses:

“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 they did know assuredly, within that house the King did lie; One entered in then for to see, and found the babe in poverty.

“If we in our time, do well we shall be, free from death and hell; for God hath prepared for us all, a resting place in general.

Noel, noel…noel, noel; born is the king of Israel.

Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.

The 12 Carols of Christmas

By Tim Colliver

[email protected]immediamidwest.com