Definition: Noel is an alternate word for Christmas.


Pronunciation: Noh-ell


Noel is thought of primarily as a French word although it has been used in English as well.  In both utilizations it means “Christmas”.  The Old French usage was derived from the Latin phrase natalis dies, or birth day, a reference to the birth of Christ.  In French the name Noel refers to a person born on Christmas.

Many English speaking people will recognize the word Noel from the Christmas carol, The First Noel, which was first published in 1823 in a volume entitled Carols Ancient and Modern, by William B. Sandys.

Why this word?

I have wonderful memories of going Christmas caroling as a child with my family and neighbors.  The First Noel always stuck with me in a somewhat haunting manner.  I have always thought it was a beautiful song and its descriptive power appealed to me as a child.  It’s interesting to sit and look into the history of a word that I overlooked when I was younger, despite its integral role in a song that I love.

How to use the word noel?

“The first noel, the angels did say

Was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay

In fields where 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!”


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Written by Kate Fulton

Kate Fulton has a bachelor’s degree in classics and psychology from the University of Massachusetts and is working on a library science degree from Simmons College. She has always been fascinated by words- their usage, spelling, and etymology. Kate may be one of the few people who enjoyed the verbal section of the SAT. Yes, she is a word geek. Currently she bores her husband and young daughter with her love of vocabulary.


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