Last week I told you that I was going to research one Christmas carol a week to improve my understanding of the songs I'm singing during our Christmas concerts.
So here I go. I'm starting with the Christmas carol that always has me stumped! I mean, seriously, how often have you sang the line "Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel!" while having NO IDEA what on earth a "noel" even is!?
Well, this is what I learned about "The First Noel":
This song is kind of a mystery in many ways.
The author of the tune we are familiar with is unknown and the time period when it was originally written is also unknown, although it is believed it was written sometime during the Middle Ages. The English version of this carol that we sing was published for the first time in Carols Ancient and Modern, a book edited by William Sandys in 1823.
The exact meaning of the word "noel" seems to be up for debate. Some think that it comes from the French word nouvelles which means "news". However, from what I found, most agree that it comes either from the Early Modern English word for "Christmas" or the Latin word for "birth". In essence, it is a word signifying a celebration of Christ's birth. It's kind of like singing "Happy Birthday!"
So what about the rest of the song?
I have a pastor friend who really doesn't care for this song because it has some definite errors in it's telling of Christ's birth. Had you ever noticed that? Honestly, until he pointed it out to me last year, I hadn't! Eeek! Here am singing this song, thinking "Oh this is so pretty and special!" (awwww - insert warm fuzzies) and yet I have no idea what "noel" means AND I'm singing about things that aren't totally accurate and didn't even notice (now you can insert a blush)!
Here are the two errors I noticed when looking closer. (By the way, if you love this song, please don't be offended! I don't think there's anything wrong with singing and enjoying this song every year. I'll talk more about that later in this post)
1 - "On a cold winter's night that was so deep"
We know, from the Bible, that there were "shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night." (Luke 2:8) However, what I didn't realize is that if it was actually cold outside (like it is during the winter) then the shepherds would not have had the sheep outside. This means that the night that Jesus was born was almost certainly not "a cold winter's night"
2 - "they looked up and saw a star"
"They" is referring to the shepherds and although they may have seen the star, the Bible says nothing about that.
Okay, so that being said, I just don't think those two little details really matter that much. I believe it is good to KNOW the truth and I would certainly never want to be singing a song that speaks inaccurately about the character of God or the Way to salvation. However, when it comes to what the temperature was like or who exactly saw the star, I just don't think it's that important (once again, this is just my opinion)!
Also, remember how I said that it is thought that this song was written during the Middle Ages? Well, this period is also known as the Dark Ages and very few people had access to the Bible during this time period. So, it is not so difficult to believe that the author of this song probably did not have the ability to check the Scriptures to make sure that his understanding of Jesus' birth was completely accurate.
So my conclusion is that singing this song is still a great way to reflect on the night Jesus was born. Although every detail sung may not be perfectly accurate, I will still enjoy singing it this year. And from now on, when I sing "Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel", I will think to myself "Birthday News! Birthday News!" and smile because it truly is the news of the most significant birthday to ever be celebrated!
Hi! I'm Sarah
I'm so glad you stopped by! I pray you find encouragement and a reason to smile while you're visiting! If this is your first time on my blog, be sure to START HERE.
“This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’
(Jeremiah 33:2-3 NIV)
Leviticus & Mark
(the Bible in a year)
Five Children and It
(family read aloud by E. Nesbit)
Middle School: The Inside Story
(by Cynthia Tobias and Sue Acuna)
All Things Gardening, Soil, & Chickens
(not a title, just a list of my current library search topics)