The First Noel
The First Noel (also written The First Noël and The First Nowell) is a traditional classical English carol, most likely from the 18th century, although possibly earlier. The word Noel comes from the French word Noël meaning Christmas, from the Latin word natalis which translates as birthday".
In its current form, it is of Cornish origin, and it was first published in Carols Ancient and Modern (1823) and Gilbert and Sandys Carols (1833), both of which were edited by William Sandys and arranged, edited and with extra lyrics written by Davies Gilbert for Hymns and Carols of God. Today, it is usually performed in a four-part hymn arrangement by the English composer John Stainer, first published in his Carols, New and Old in 1871.
The melody is unusual among English folk melodies in that it consists of one musical phrase repeated twice, followed by a refrain which is a variation on that phrase. All three phrases end on the third of the scale. It is thought to be a version of an earlier melody sung in a church gallery setting "The First O Well"; a conjectural reconstruction of this earlier version can be found in the New Oxford Book of Carols.
Textual comparison 
In common with many traditional songs and carols the lyrics vary across books. The versions compared below are taken from the New English Hymnal (1986) (which is the version used in Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer's, Carols, New and Old), Ralph Dunstan's gallery version in the Cornish Songbook (1929) and Reverend Charles Lewis Hutchins's American version in Carols Old and Carols New (1916).
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|New English Hymnal.||Cornish Songbook.||American version.|
|1. The first Nowell the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
|1. O well, O well, the Angels did say
To shepherds there in the fields did lay;
|1. The first Noel, the angels say
To Bethlehem's shepherds as they lay.
|2. They lookèd up and saw a star,
Shining in the east, beyond them far:
|2. And then there did appear a Star,
Whose glory then did shine so far:
|2. The shepherds rose, and saw a star
Bright in the East, beyond them far,
|3. And by the light of that same star,
Three Wise Men came from country far;
|3. And by the light of that same Star,
Three Wise Men came from country far;
|3. Now by the light of this bright star
Three wise men came from country far;
|4. This star drew nigh to the north-west;
O'er Bethlehem it took its rest;
|4. The Star went before them unto the North West,
And seemed o'er the City of Bethlehem to rest,
|4. Then drawing nigh to the northwest,
O'er Bethlehem town it took its rest;
|5. Then entered in those Wise Men three,
||5. Then enter'd in these Wise Men three,
With reverence fall on their knee,
|6. Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
|6. 'Tween an ox manger and an ass,
Our Blest Messiah's place it was;
- The Supremes on their album "Merry Christmas", 1965
- Elvis Presley (Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas, 1971)
- Crash Test Dummies (A Lump of Coal, 1991)
- Eric Johnson (Merry Axemas, 1997)
- Charlotte Church (Dream a Dream, 2000)
- Anne Murray (What a Wonderful Christmas, 2001)
- Whitney Houston (One Wish: The Holiday Album, 2003)
- Clay Aiken (2003 Adult Contemporary chart track)
- Josh Groban (Noël, 2007
- Royce Campbell (A Solo Guitar Christmas), 2007
- Carrie Underwood released a version of this song, 2008
- Tori Amos (Midwinter Graces, 2009)
- David Archuleta (Christmas From The Heart, 2009)
- Bob Dylan (Christmas in the Heart, 2009)
- The Fray (Christmas EP, 2009)
- Maya Filipič (Lonely Night, 2009) 
- Susan Boyle (The Gift, 2010)
- Annie Lennox (A Christmas Cornucopia, 2010)
- Mariah Carey (Merry Christmas II You, 2010)
- Jackie Evancho (Heavenly Christmas, 2011)
- Zhang Liyin (2011 Winter SMTown – The Warmest Gift, 2011)
- TobyMac (Christmas in Diverse City, 2011)
- Scotty McCreery (Christmas with Scotty McCreery, 2012)
- Lady Antebellum (On This Winter's Night, 2012)
- Melissa Benoist (Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album Volume 3, 2012)
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer, The First Nowell in Carols New and Old (London: Novello, Ewer & Co., ca 1878)
- Remembered as the treble part to a carol "Hark, hark the angels sing", according to Annie G. Gilchrist, "Note on the Carol "The First Noel" Journal of the Folk-Song Society 519 (June 1915), pp. 240-242.
- The First Nowell, Hymns and Carols of Christmas.
- "Noel". Eytmonline: Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 29 December 2011.
- Keytes and Parrott, New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford University Press, 1992) ISBN 0-19-353323-5.
- New English Hymnal, (Canterbury Press, 1986), No. 36
- Ralph Dunstan, The Cornish Song Book (London: Reid Bros., Ltd., 1929), pp. 126
- Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916), No. 643
- Filipič, Maya. "First Noel". Jamendo.