Noel and the meaning of Christmas

Noel, Noel

I am not much of an actor but over the years I have been persuaded to get up on stage a handful of times. The first time it was as one of the shepherds in my primary school nativity scene (sometimes I can still remember the one line I had). It was the cue to start singing this Christmas hymn.

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.

From the Gospel of Luke

We often don’t understand the meanings of the words we use at Christmas time. Noel is one example. We sing it in this traditional and popular Christmas carol, The First Noel, written in about the 18th century. The carol is inspired by words from Luke [2.10-11]. It is the celebration of the birth of Christ who has been sent to save us. The angels speak to the shepherds:

And the angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people: for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.

Noel (or Nowell) entered English in the late 14th century from the French word Noël for the feast of Christmas. Noel comes from a shortening of the Latin phrase, natalis dies, meaning the day of birth, which in Church Latin refers to the birth day of Christ (of course, Christmas).

Christmas has had other names. In Old English, Gēola (Yule) referred to the January and December period. Yule became the name of a pagan midwinter festival that merged with Christmas around 1000 AD.

The Anglo-Saxons referred to Christmas as midwinter or sometimes as Nātiuiteð, which has a similar meaning to noel,  from Latin nātīvitās meaning birth.

Happy Christmas

But whatever you call it make sure you have a peaceful and caring time this Christmas.