Noel – a four letter word with a universal translation

When it comes to language translations for the celebration of “Christmas”, we don’t have to think about the meaning of the word Noel.  It’s a beautiful word with only one translation.  Many other languages use hyphenated words to describe Christmas.  Among the Romance languages, the words “Merry Christmas” includes the use of “birth”, like Feliz Natal in Portuguese, Feliz Navidad in Spanish or Buon Natale in Italian.

Noel decorations

Noel decorations I’ve collected over the years.

In French, the word for Christmas is simply ” Noël”.  In the French written language, the word holds the tréma accent above the letter “e”, but this authenticity is not essential to understanding its universal meaning. Other terms, used to describe Christmas traditions, include Noel, like Pere Noel (Father Christmas or Santa Claus), arbre de Noel (Christmas Tree), nuit de Noel (Christmas night) or Chants de Noel (Christmas carols).

So, how did this one simple word become universally understood among Christians?  Well, as a matter of fact, there is no answer. Perhaps it was an ancient Celtic word. Possibly, Noel was a conjunction and, over time, it became one word.

In my un-expert opinion, developed after studying the word, I suspect the origin is a combination of “No”, with an ancient meaning “of night” or referring to “birth”, with the  ending “el”, indicating “of God”, as interpreted in the Hebrew texts. In other words, Noel could mean “Birth of God” or “Night of God”.  It’s been a passion of mine to learn as much as possible about the origin of the word “Noel”, because I’m infatuated with its simplicity and universal charm.

Arbre de Noel Christmas tree

Arbre de Noel- Christmas tree

Although it’s only my opinion, the words Joyeux Noël  (Merry Christmas) seem to have a musical harmony affixed to them. It’s the kind of seasonal expression of peace we feel, when listening to “The First Noel” performed as a Christmas carol. (The First Noel video performed with lyrics at this site.)

Following is a list of the translations for “Merry Christmas”.

Felicem natalem Christi- Latin

Feliz Natal – Portugese

Gëzuar Krishtlindjet- Albanian

Fröhliche Weihnachten- German

Buon Natale – Italian

Feliz Navidad- Spanish

Craciun Fericit- Rumanian

Schastlivogo Rozhdestva – Russian

Maligayang Pasko- Tagalog (Filipino)

Jwaye Nwel- Haitian Creole

Joyeux Noël  – French

As a result of my research about Noël, I’ve developed a considerable collection of decorations and items where the lovely word is central to the artifacts. Recently, I highlighted the Noël spirit in a holiday window exhibit, created for the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn Campus (USM LAC).

Chants de Noel

Noel exhibit window in the Franco-American Collection at the University of Maine Lewiston Auburn College. Featuring Chants de Noël (Christmas Carols).

In the universe of languages, where hundreds of dialects are spoken in places where Christmas is celebrated, the word Noel stands alone for its elegance.

Hopefully, my opinion about the origins of Noel will hold up over time. It’s “Night of God” or the “Birth of God”, explained, using four Roman alphabet letters.

Joyeux Noël à tous! (Merry Christmas to all!)

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 30 years.