I still get excited and smile to myself when I hear The First Noel played at Christmas time. Even after almost 71 years, I get a warm feeling of excitement and anticipation and JOY when I hear that familiar melody. Noel—meaning expressions of joy or the joyous news of Christmas.

In 1945, I was teaching at a high school in Green Sea, SC, and I was helping the chorus teacher get ready for the Christmas program. She asked me to sing a solo on the program, but I was a little hesitant, as my heart was full of stress and worry since the man I loved was due back from a tour of duty in war-torn Germany for a Christmas leave. I had written this dear man a letter every day that he had been gone, and he had written me when he could. I eagerly awaited his homecoming and didn’t want to miss even a single minute. I chose The First Noel, a French song about the joyous news of Christmas.

Two weeks before the program, Bill called to say he was at Fort Bragg, NC, and had leave, but needed to go see his parents in Spartanburg, and wanted to see me as well. My girlfriends chipped in and bought me a bus ticket to go see Bill before his train left for Spartanburg. Bill told me that he would come pick me up after school was out for the holidays, but he wasn’t sure how or when. So I put my mind on the end of school and preparing my solo.

On the night of the concert the auditorium was filled with students and their families. I had talked to Bill by telephone, but he still did not know when he could find transportation south. I stood up to sing and looked at the happy families crowded into the chairs. As I began to sing that beautiful Christmas carol, I visualized the joy of the Virgin Mary on that first Christmas night when her precious baby was born. The back door of the auditorium opened and my precious Bill stepped inside the packed room, searching the faces of the crowd for me. I don’t know how I kept singing, but I found his eyes and my heart overflowed with joy! He was safe and home at last, and had stopped at nothing to find a ride home to me, borrowing his father’s car and begging gas coupons from friends and relatives. I finished singing The First Noel, with the real Joy of Mary in my voice. Three weeks later on January 1, 1946, we were married, and were married for 70+ years! I will forever rejoice when I hear The First Noel played or sung at Christmas time, or any other time, like Bill’s funeral. Christmas Joy! Rejoice! 

Mary Thompson

About the Contributor

Mary Thompson shares this story with the help of her daughters Martha Bean and Mary Lorick Thompson. Mary’s husband Bill would have been 95 today. The First Noel was part of the prelude music at his funeral in September.