What Does Noel Mean?

Noël is “Christmas” in French. Joyeux Noël is French for “Merry Christmas.” Noel can also mean good news, coming from the French phrase bonnes nouvelles (“good news”). Noel can even mean birthday. The French noël comes from the Latin natalis, meaning birthday. Finally, noel can also refer to a Christmas carol. So, it makes sense then that noel is a word we use in English to celebrate or share the good news of the birth of Christ! It is no wonder that one of the most beloved Christmas carols of all time is “The First Noel."

Kristi Walker
What Does Noel Mean?

1. Noël is “Christmas” in French. Joyeux Noël is French for “Merry Christmas.”

2. Noel can also mean good news, coming from the French phrase bonnes nouvelles (“good news”).

3. Noel can even mean birthday. The French noël comes from the Latin natalis, meaning birthday.

4. Finally, noel can also refer to a Christmas carol.

The First Noel

It makes sense then that noel is a word we use in English to celebrate or share the good news of the birth of Christ! It is no wonder that one of the most beloved Christmas carols of all time is “The First Noel”:

The First Noel the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds
in fields as they lay;
In fields as they lay, keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
 Born is the King of Israel.

"Aujourd'hui le Roi des Cieux" is the French version of "The First Noel." The two are sung to the same tune, but the words are different. The translation given here is the literal translation of the Christmas carol “Aujourd'hui le Roi des Cieux”:

Aujourd'hui le Roi des Cieux au milieu de la nuit
 Voulut naître chez nous de la Vierge Marie

 
Pour sauver le genre humain, l'arracher au péché
 
Ramener au Seigneur ses enfants égarés.

Today the King of Heaven in the middle of the night
Was born on Earth of the Virgin Mary
To save the human race, pull it from sin
Return the Lord's lost children to him.
 Noël, Noël, Noël, Noël

Both the English and the French versions of the carol reference a newborn King: The King of Israel, the King of Heaven. Noel may be a derivative of the Latin word for birthday, but it refers specifically to the most extraordinary birthday the world has ever known! 

The King of Kings

There have been many well-known kings and emperors throughout history: King Tut (Tutankhamun) born 1342 B.C., King Solomon born 990 B.C., Emperor Constantine born February 27, 272, King Herod (Herod the Great) born 73 B.C., King Henry VIII born June 28, 1491, and many more. We know approximately when they were born, but most of us do not celebrate their births, even though they were kings.

However, the birth of one particular king, over 2,020 years ago, has so captivated the majority of the world since it occurred, that today we become a bit obsessed with his birthday, now a modern holiday known as Christmas. Jesus, the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2, 27:11, 29, 37) and the “King of Kings” (Revelation 17:14, 19:16), was most likely born sometime between 5-4 B.C. (For a great explanation and study of the birth of Christ, read First Christmas by Paul L. Maier or The First Christmas by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan). His exact birth date is a mystery, which is yet another reason it is remarkable that we celebrate the ambiguous birthday of Jesus. 

Countless songs, such as “The First Noel” have been written about his birth. This cannot be said of other kings, and that is because King Jesus is unlike any other king, unlike any other person. He is the son of God! The miraculous story of Jesus’ birth, accounted in the biblical Gospels (Matthew and Luke) and foretold by prophets (Isaiah, Micah, etc.) hundreds of years beforehand, leaves us speechless thousands of years later. No other baby can claim the following: 

  • Jesus is the Son of God.

“The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35). 

"You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31). 

  • Jesus is God and became man. 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1, 14). 

  • Jesus was born to a virgin.

“…God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:26-27). 

“But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus…’  ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’” (Luke 1:30-31, 34). 

  • Jesus’ kingdom will never end.

“The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32-33). 

“They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings…” (Revelation 17:14). 

“On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16).

  • Jesus came to save us from our sins

“She [Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). 

The Savior of the World

In a few weeks, we will again celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ. Who is Jesus to you? Is he merely the reason for the season, or not even that? The most important thing this Christmas season is for Jesus to be your King! He is the eternal God, but He became flesh, was born of a virgin, lived a life on earth, was crucified on a Roman cross, thereby paying for the sins of humanity, and rose from the grave three days later, defeating death. He is the Son of God, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), the Creator of the universe, the King of kings and Lord of lords, and the Savior of the world. 

The Bible tells us that God, “gave him [Jesus] the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). So...

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 mankind has bought
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
 Born is the King of Israel!

 ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/lukbar


Kristi Walker has been a missionary in Berlin, Germany for over 15 years working with an international church as the Director of Student Ministries. She is the author of two books, Disappointment: A Subtle Path Away from Christ and Convinced. Applying Biblical Principles to Life’s Choices.


Originally published November 28, 2019.