Saturday 14 December 2013

N is for...Noel

Xmas as a shortened version of Christmas can seem rather harsh so it is no surprise that Noel has been popularised as an alternative. The simple origin of the word Noel is that it is just French for Christmas but spelt Noël, and us Brits have never been very comfortable with accents or in this a diacritic. Noël itself comes from the Latin natalis meaning birthday.

As a first name it is often given to babies born on Christmas Day or in December. One famous example is Sir Noël Coward who was born on 16th December 1899.

The Christmas carol The First Noel could date from as early as the 13th Century. It first started to gain popularity in the 16th Century but its current arrangement was put together in the 18th Century. It never started off as The First Noel as the original first Cornish version published in 1823 was, “O well, O well, the Angels did say”. By 1871 this had been changed to, “The first Nowell the angels did say” Nowell in this case being the ancient English Anglo-Saxon spelling of Noel. An American version of the Carol published in 1916 had the first line as, “The first Noel, the angels say”.

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