The first Noel, the angel 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. Refrain.
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 I went. Refrain.
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. Refrain.
Then entered in those Wise Men three,
Full rev’rently upon their knee,
And offered there in His presence
Their gold, and myrrh, and frankincense. Refrain.
Noel is a French word that may come from the Latin natalis, meaning “birth,” or from the Latin novella, meaning “new.” In one sense Noel refers to the whole Christmas season; in another it refers to the good news that Jesus Christ has come. The first Noel, this song says, was sung by an angel to poor shepherds. The chorus rings out like a corner paperboy – “News! News! News! Hear all about it! King of Israel born today!”
Early folk carols such as this one often had a memorable chorus and many stanzas, each presenting some ne aspect of the story. An individual or group could sing a stanza, perhaps one newly made up, and the whole crowd would join in the refrain. “The First Noel” was first published in its present form by William Sandys in 1833.