Song Analysis

What Child, Nowell

Tuesday 16 August 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

"What Child, Nowell" from Tori’s seasonal record Midwinter Graces is a mixture of two well-known English carols: "What Child Is This?" and "The First Nowell" (also known as "The First Noel," ’Noël’ meaning ’Christmas’ in French). As most of the carol covers on the album, Tori changed and added some of the lyrics. As we can see in the comparative, she edited out a lot of content on the two songs and added a segment that makes the link between "What Child is This?" (the verses) and "The First Nowell" (chorus).

She mostly edited out conservative and guilt-inducing lyrics from the original songs ("Good Christian fear: for sinners here/the silent Word is pleading/Nails, spear shall pierce him through/The Cross he borne for me, for me"), as well as too specific Christian references to make the song more universal.

Tori reckoned in interviews that while the song talks about "some of the things that are core to my parents," she also wanted it to be integrative of other cultures and spiritual beliefs. "I wanted to also write and add things so that every voice was singing a new ‘Noel’ with a new approach that didn’t involve wanting to hurt someone else because they believed differently,” she explained to

“I wanted it to represent people who could sit in the same room together and maybe even like each other as people, even though they don’t believe or worship in the same way. If you asked me when I was a little girl in the late ’60s ‘When you reach mid-life or age 45, what do you think the world will be like?’ I would never have answered ‘We’ll be in the middle of another war that has religion at its core.’ Yet, here we are. So, yes, I am driven to try and put this magic idea of rebirth into the album and have it be lit in everybody. Everyone should have access to that.”

So while she sings about Mary and angels, there are no mentions of the King of Israel or the Three Wise Men - which appear as the central focus of "Star of Wonder." And overall, Tori’s version celebrates the birth of a baby but not necessarily a baby that would be God’s son. "What Child, Nowell" clearly focuses on the humanity of the newborn and his belonging to Creation because of the mere fact he was born to this world. In consequence and complete accordance to Tori’s view of women, the mother of the child is simply Mary, neither Virgin, nor Whore. Like in "Mary," she is a complete Woman, embracing both the Virgin Mary and the Magdalene, the spiritual and the sensual (what Tori calls "marrying the Marys") and, like in the other songs of the album, Tori completely removed references to Mary’s virginity.

It also has to be noted she only retained the phrase "Nowell, Nowell, Nowell" and the word "Born" in "The First Nowell" segment of the song.