The First Noel (aka The First Nowell or just Noel) is a traditional English Christmas carol, most likely from the 18th century. In its current form it is of Cornish origin, and it was first published in Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1823) and Gilbert and Sandys Christmas Carols (1833), both of which were edited by William B. Sandys and arranged, edited and with extra lyrics written by Davies Gilbert. The melody is unusual among English folk melodies in that it consists of one musical phrase repeated twice, followed by a variation on that phrase. All three phrases end on the third of the scale. The refrain, also unusually, merely repeats the melody of the verse. It is thought to be a corruption of an earlier melody sung in a church gallery setting; a conjectural reconstruction of the earlier version can be found in the New Oxford Book of Carols. The word Nowell comes from the French word Noël meaning "Christmas", from the Latin word natalis ("birth").
Information taken from wikipedia.
In common with many traditional songs and carols the lyrics vary across books. The version below is taken from the New English Hymnal.
- The first Nowell 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:
- Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
- Born is the King of Israel.
- They lookèd 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 whersoever it went:
- This star drew nigh to the north-west;
- O'er Bethlehem it took its rest;
- And there it did both stop and stay
- Right over the place where Jesus lay:
- Then entered in those Wise Men three,
- Fell 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 hath bought: