"Noël Nouvelet" is a traditional French Christmas and New Year's carol. The song was long ago translated into English as "Sing We Now of Christmas," though the lyrics are somewhat different. The translation given here is the literal translation of the original French Christmas carol.
Lyrics and Translation "Noël Nouvelet"
Noël nouvelet, Noël chantons ici,
Dévotes gens, crions à Dieu merci !
New Christmas, Christmas we sing here,
Devout people, let us shout our thanks to God!
Chantons Noël pour le Roi nouvelet ! (bis)
Noël nouvelet, Noël chantons ici !
Let us sing Christmas for the new King! (repeat)
New Christmas, Christmas we sing here.
L'ange disait! pasteurs partez d'ici!
En Bethléem trouverez l'angelet.
The angel said! Shepherds leave this place!
In Bethlehem you'll find the little angel.
En Bethléem, étant tous réunis,
Trouvèrent l'enfant, Joseph, Marie aussi.
In Bethlehem, all united,
Were found the child, Joseph, and Mary too.
Bientôt, les Rois, par l'étoile éclaircis,
A Bethléem vinrent une matinée.
Soon, the Kings, by the bright star
To Bethlehem came one morning.
L'un partait l'or; l'autre l'encens bem;
L'étable alors au Paradis semblait.
One brought gold, the other priceless incense;
The stable thus seemed like Heaven.
Noël Nouvelet History and Meaning
This traditional French carol dates from the late 15th century and the early 16th century. The word nouvelet has the same root as Noël, both stemming from the word for news and newness.
Some sources say it was a New Year's song. But others point out that the lyrics all speak of the news of the birth of the Christ child in Bethlehem, the announcement by angels to the shepherds in the fields, looking forward to the visit of the Three Kings and the presentation of their gifts to the Holy Family. Everything points to a Christmas carol rather than celebrating the New Year.
This carol celebrates all of the figures in the crèche, the handmade nativity scenes found throughout France, where they are part of the Christmas celebration in homes and in town squares. This song would be sung by families at home and at community gatherings rather than as part of the liturgy in Roman Catholic churches at the time it was written.
There are many versions found from those early centuries. It was printed in the 1721 "Grande Bible des noëls, taunt vieux que nouveaus." Translations into English and variations in French would all be colored by the denominational differences between Christian faiths and doctrines.
The song is in a minor key, in Dorian mode. It shares its first five notes with the hymn, "Ave, Maris Stella Lucens Miseris". The tune is used in, of course, the English version, "Sing We Now of Christmas." But it is also repurposed for the Easter hymn, "Now the Green Blade Rises," written in 1928 by John Macleod Cambell Crum. It is used for several translations into English of a hymn based on the writings of Thomas Aquinas, "Adoro Te Devote, A Meditation on the Blessed Sacrament."
The carol remains popular both in French and in its English variations.