The Twelve Days of Christmas Carols
Christmastide Reflections on Songs of the Season
We don’t always include this carol in our Service of Lessons and Carols simply because of its length. When all six verses are included, it seems to make other carols unnecessary. But it is a beautiful way to tell the story, and to invite us into praise and joy.
The First Nowell is found in our Glory to God Presbyterian Hymnal as selection 147. The editors help us to understand why they chose this spelling rather than Noel as they comment: “Nowell” is the English form of the French “noel,” a shout of joy formerly used at Christmas (as in Chaucer’s “Franklin’s Tale”), a clue that the word is older than its first printing. It may have Latin and French roots related to “born” (natus/né) as well to “news” (nova/nouvelle).”
There are ample reasons for joy in how the story of the response to Christ’s birth unfolds.
The first Nowell the angel 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.
They looked up and saw a star shining in the east beyond them far;
and to the earth it gave great light, and so it continued both day and night. [Refrain]
And by the light of that same star three wise men came from country far;
to seek for a king was their intent, and to follow the star wherever it went. [Refrain]
This star drew nigh to the northwest; o’er Bethlehem it took its rest,
and there it did both stop and stay, right over the place where Jesus lay. [Refrain]
Then entered in those wise men three, full reverently upon their knee,
and offered there in his presence their gold, and myrrh, and frankincense. [Refrain]
Then let us all with one accord sing praises to our heavenly Lord,
that hath made heaven and earth of nought, and with his blood our life hath bought. [Refrain]
The babe was born. The angels sang. The shepherds saw. The wise men came. And we are invited to join the parade.
Lord, let me take my place along with those of all generations who have found their greatest joy in the birth of our Savior. Amen.