The First Noel

“The First Noel” has its roots in the fifteenth century in its oral form, and it appeared on eighteenth-century broadsides in Helston, near Cornwall (Keyte and Parrott, 1992, 482). It was published first in the revised edition of Some Ancient Christmas Carols (1823), edited by Davies Gilbert. Its publication in the famous Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1833), compiled by William Sandys in London (Sandys, 1833, 74–75) increased the carol’s prominence. Originally in nine stanzas, five are commonly used in most hymnals today. Though the angels’ appearance to the shepherds (Luke 2:1–20) is the subject of the first stanza, most of the carol focuses on the journey of the magi (Matthew 2:1–12), giving the carol an Epiphany focus1.

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.

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.


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.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

This star drew nigh to the northwest
O’er Bethlehem it took its rest
And there it did both Pause and stay
Right o’er the place where Jesus lay.


Then entered in those Wise men three
Full reverently upon their knee
And offered there in His presence
Their gold and myrrh and frankincense.


Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made Heaven and earth of nought
And with his blood mankind has bought.


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