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.
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.
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).
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!)