Tomorrow is Epiphany. Growing up, we never discussed epiphany which celebrates when Christ appeared the Magi. But now we mark it annually and sing Christmas hymns right up until the Wise Men arrived.

Last Sunday, I shook my head as I saw a hymn listed in the weekly bulletin. The First Nowell.

Sigh. I miss Noel. Why mess around with this lovely French carol? But then I squinted at the bottom of the page in our hymnal. From Cornwall.


I’m not sure I can name 2 regions in France but I do know that Cornwall is part of Great Britain. So when I got home I did a Google search. “Nowell vs Noel.”

So much for my assumptions. First of all, the hymn is not French which is what I had believed because of the spelling Noel. It is . . . drum roll . . . Cornish.

Nowell is a celebratory shout associated with Christmas. And the spelling, nowell, can be traced right back to the time of Chaucer. In the mid-20th century, typographers decided that nowell looked to old-timey. It was archaic. It did not belong in the modern age. So they substituted Noel.

It wasn’t about theology. It wasn’t about belief. It was about appearances. But it made me sad. What about poor Noel? So I did a bit more research. Like Chaucer, Noel is from the 15th century. It is French for Christmas or carol.

So which do you use? Noel or Nowell? In the carol, the correct word is Nowell. Christmas cards can sport either. As a name? Noel is the way to go.

But I also know that I’ll have a whole list of questions for my minister. Don’t worry. He’s used to it and he’ll be sure to give me a list of things to read.