Today it is usually sung to a tune by the English composer John Stainer, who also composed the hymn 'Love Divine'.
What does Noël mean, and what's the difference between Noël and Nowell?
Noël is French for Christmas, deriving from the Latin word natalis. Noël is the French spelling, while Nowell is the English spelling, which is why the carol is known as both 'The First Nowell' and 'The First Noel'
What are the lyrics to 'The First Nowell' ('The First Noel'?
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:
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 whersoever it went:
This star drew nigh to the north-west;
O'er Bethlehem it took its rest;
And there it did both stop and stay
Right over the place where Jesus lay:
Then entered in those Wise Men three,
Full reverently upon their knee,
And offered there in his presence,
Their gold and myrrh and frankincense:
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 hath bought: