From the Christian Broadcast Network, "Christmas Devotion: The First Noel," by Kenneth W. Osbeck, from the Devotion Book, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions -- Although no Christmas season would be complete without the melodious singing of this tuneful carol, very little is known about its origin. It is believed to have had its rise in France during the fifteenth century. Noel is a French word originating from Latin meaning "birthday." The song is thought to have been brought across the channel to England before 1823 by the wandering troubadours. The carol under the English form, "Nowell," became a great favorite for Christmas Eve, especially in the west of England. This was when the entire village gathered for singing and celebrating the bringing in of the Yule log. At this time carols were thought of as popular religious songs meant to be sung outside the church rather than within.
BeBe and CeCe Winans
"The First Noel" portrays in vivid narrative style the story of the birth of Christ. All six stanzas are needed to complete the entire event when the hymn is sung. The sixth stanza urges us to join together to sing praises to God for the marvels of His creation and for the salvation provided through Christ's shed blood. The repetition of the joyous "noel" in the refrain is equivalent to our singing out "happy birthday" to someone.
It is interesting to observe that the "King of Israel" was first announced to "certain poor shepherds" only, but in the final stanza the phrases "let us all" and "mankind hath brought" remind us that Christ came to redeem the whole world. (source: Christian Broadcast Network)
BeBe & CeCe Winans - THE FIRST NOEL