What Is the Meaning of the Word Noel?
- Cally Logan Author
- 2019 22 Nov
Noel is a term commonly synonymous with Christmas. From carols to greeting cards, it fits snuggly into Christmas vocabulary, but what does Noel really mean? Languages and input from around the globe have come into play in the context of what this famous word really means in carols, such as “The First Noel” forging a greeting from Bethlehem two thousand years ago to our modern age.
Root Meaning of the Word Noel
The word, “Noel” has multiple root meanings. The French word, nouvelles, means, “news”. The English root of the word comes from the word, nowel, which means “shout of joy.” The mother of Romance languages, Latin, also ushers forth a root in the word, natalis, meaning, ”birth.” These languages would prove to provide a solid foundation revolving around the context in which Noel is so famously used today.
The first common usage of the word began primarily in the Middle Ages in Europe. French and English carols began using the word within the context of songs referring to the birth of Christ. It is thought the melody for the famous Christmas song began in France in the 1200s, but it would not be until the 1800s that the song with lyrics would gain such popularity.
"The First Noel"
“The First Noel” carol was first published in 1823 by William B. Sandys in his book, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern. It is said that local townspeople would gather at Christmas time to sing such carols in worship and celebration of remembering the birth of Christ. During this time period many stories, songs, and traditions were carried down from generation to generation by the retelling of the story. Greater production of the Bible in multiple languages and by the printing press invented in the 1400s allowed for greater access to Scriptures for these truths to be passed on. Lyrics added over time resulted in the classic song still sung today.
Lyrics foundationally in the song reflect the story told throughout Luke 2:8-14, where the Angels came to share the good news of the birth of Christ with the shepherds:
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:8-14).
The reflected root meanings of the variants of Noel all come into context of lyrics. “The first Noel the angels did sing was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay.” Reflecting the Latin root of birth, the English root of joyous noise of the arrival, while embracing the French meaning of news, the roots of Noel work together to proclaim the sounds of praise to the Lord.
Repetition throughout the song with the hook, “Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, born is the King of Israel” resounds in the call to spread and repeat the blessed Good News of the arrival of the promised Messiah on earth. The final verse reflects the reminder of Christ’s sacrifice:
“Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord,
That hath made heaven and earth of naught,
And with his blood mankind has bought.”
Knowing that the birth of Christ matters because of the death and resurrection of Christ, encourages us to sing in one accord of both His birth and resurrection.
“And to the earth it gave great light
And so it continued both day and night.”
Using the word Noel should be a way of life, not merely for a season. Jesus calls in Matthew 28:19-20,
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Repeating the joy of Noel throughout the season of Christmas reflects such a call. It is vital to not merely sing and share solely during the Christmas season, but graciously wear upon our hearts and speak upon our lips the joyous truth behind what Noel represents. Noel represents the Good News of Christ Himself coming to earth to forgive and save us all.
Cally Logan is a writer and teacher from Richmond, Virginia. She graduated from Regent University. Currently, she is a writer for Dear Sparrows Ministry site, and the Podcast, "Dear Sparrows." In her free time, she enjoys leading a high school girls’ small group, cooking, and spending time in tree houses. Her latest books, Dear Young Sparrow and Unveiled are available everywhere or at DearSparrows.com.
This article is part of our larger Christmas and Advent resource library centered around the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!
What is Christmas? Understanding History, Origin and Traditions
Christmas Eve History and Traditions
When Was Jesus Born? History of December 25th
Where Was Jesus Born? 5 Things to Know about Bethlehem
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