First Noel, The

DESCRIPTION: "The first Noel the angels did say Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay." The shepherds and the Wise Men see signs and come to see and pay homage to the King (Jesus)
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1823 (Gilbert, "Some Ancient Christmas Carols")
KEYWORDS: Jesus Christmas religious
REFERENCES (9 citations):
Peters, p. 72, "Oh Well, Oh Well" (1 short text, 1 tune)
Rickert, pp. 55-57 (1 text, which the editor regards as old but which she took from Sandys)
Fireside, p. 256, "The First Nowell" (1 text, 1 tune)
OBC 27, "The First Nowell" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 376, "The First Noel" (1 text)
Fuld-WFM, pp. 226-227, "The First Noel"
ADDITIONAL: Ian Bradley, _The Penguin Book of Carols_ (1999), #77, "The First Nowell" (1 text)
Robert J. Morgan, _Then Sings My Soul, Book 2: 150 of the World's Greatest Hymn Stories_, Nelson, 2004, pp. 60-61, "The First Noel" (1 text, 1 tune)

Roud #682
Pete Seeger, "The First Noel" (on PeteSeeger37, PeteSeeger42)
No L (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 203)
NOTES: Allegedly based on a Cornish carol found in manuscript in 1817, and perhaps printed in eighteenth century broadsides.
Marilyn Kay Stulken, Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, Fortress Press, 1981, p. 159, observes that "some feel [this song] is no older than the seventeenth century; others believe that the fanciful treatment of the Star motif suggests an earlier date."
The tune reportedly occurs in Sandys (1833). Stulken reports some hypotheses about its origin, including hypotheses that it originated as a harmonization or descant to another tune. According to William Reynolds, Companion to Baptist Hymnal, Broadman Press, 1976, p. 212, this tune was Jeremiah Clark's "An Hymn for Christmas Day."
The word "nowell" or "noel" is known in English carols at least from the fifteenth century; Richard Greene, editor, A Selection of English Carols, Clarendon Medieval and Tudor Series, Oxford/Clarendon Press, 1962, p. 64, prints a carol from Bodleian Library MS. Selden B.26 (which also contains the famous Agincourt Carol) which begins "Owt of your slepe aryse and wake" and has a "Nowel, nowel, nowel" chorus. The word itself is of course French, and ultimately from Latin.
Cornish tradition seems to have a rather peculiar version of this song, in which the "Noel" of the chorus is replaced by "O Well!" This usage is reported in Dunstan's 1929 Cornish Song Book, and apparently was preserved by informant John Persons, who was responsible for several carols derived from Cornwall which appear in Peters. - RBW
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