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The First Nowell

posted Jan 4, 2015, 5:56 PM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Jan 4, 2015, 5:56 PM ]
Although this carol is well-known, very little is known about its origin. Some scholars attest that Noël is French, coming from the Medieval Latin word natalis, meaning "birth". Others claim its source as another Latin word, novella, which means "news," corresponding to the news of Jesus' birth being shared.

The song is believed to have become popular in France during the 15th century. Then sometime during the 18th century, it is thought to have been brought across the English Channel by wandering troubadours, who spelled it “Nowell." In western England it became a great favorite on Christmas Eve, where entire villages gathered to sing religious carols that weren’t yet deemed fit to be sung inside the church while they celebrated the bringing in of the Yule log. Adopted during the middle ages from Norse tradition, it was custom for a huge log to be cut, hollowed out and filled with aromatic oils and spices, then lit on Christmas Eve with the hope it would burn through the 12 days of Christmas until January 6.

The First Noël was first published in England’s 1823 Carols Ancient and Modern. This book has historical significance because it was the first to include many of what we now consider classic carols: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen; I Saw Threes Ships Come Sailing In; and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, which all had their public debut in it.

Famous recordings include those by Bing Crosby; Frank Sinatra; Connie Francis; The Supremes; Elvis Presley; Neil Diamond; Anne Murray; Josh Groban; REO Speedwagon; Susan Boyle; Annie Lennox; Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige.