‘Sona’ or ‘Shona’ for ‘Happy Christmas’ (Merry Christmas) in Irish?

Posted on 01. Dec, 2014 by in Irish Language

Crann Nollag (http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=84962&picture=christmas-tree)

Crann Nollag (http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=84962&picture=christmas-tree)

(le Róislín)

As we transition from Lá Altaithe (i Meiriceá) to Aoine Dhubh to Satharn na nGnóthas Beag to Cibearluan, and now, most recently, Máirt na Carthanachta, we’re now ready to look at another set of holiday terms, such as “Oíche Nollag” and “An Nollaig.”

And right along with that, we have the greeting, “Nollaig Shona!”  [NOL-ig HUN-uh, with the “s” silent].

So let’s take a closer look at that adjective “sona” (with the “s” pronounced) see why it changes to “shona” for this phrase.

And some of you might be wondering why we use “shona” for Christmas but “sona” for “birthday” (as in “Lá breithe sona duit,” and I can just hear you all singing along to that, well, i mo shamhlaíocht).

It all boils down to … inscne (grammatical gender).

If you’ve been doing Irish for a while, you’ve already picked up the fact that almost all nouns in Irish have grammatical gender.  There are about 20 that don’t (my rough count, anyway), ach sin scéal eile.  If you haven’t got the basic skinny on inscne, you might want to check out Transparent Language’s video on YouTube first (Irish Gaelic Grammar: Gender, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Vt6p1wF5xw)

So we know that Irish nouns are either masculine or feminine (except for a few further exceptions, that switch gender from dialect to dialect).  “Table” (bord) is masculine but “chair” (cathaoir) is feminine, and that list goes on and on.  Sometimes it seems logical (an fear, the man, masculine and an bhean, the woman, feminine).  Other times it’s less logical, at least from today’s perspective (an cailín, the girl, masculine but an stail, the stallion, feminine).

At any rate, our topic today is holidays, specifically Christmas, so we’re mostly concerned with the word “Nollaig” (An Nollaig, Christmas).

An Nollaig” is feminine, so when we use an adjective to describe it, like “happy,” we have to use the feminine form of the adjective “happy.”  For current purposes, that will be “shona” [HUN-uh, silent s].

The fact that we drop the “an” part off of the greeting doesn’t change what we do with adjective in the greeting:

Nollaig Shona!

Or to be more specific: Nollaig Shona duit! (to one person) and Nollaig Shona daoibh! (to two or more people).

Or in a different dialect: Nollaig Shona dhuit! and Nollaig Shona dhaoibh!

If you’ve already learned to sing “Lá breithe sona duit,” just remember that we use “sona” there because “” is masculine, and “sona” agrees with “.”

It’s interesting that a number of Irish words for major holidays are also feminine (An Cháisc, Easter, mar shampla).  So we might think “shona” would also apply.  But for Easter, the typical “happy” greeting isn’t with any form of “sona.”  Instead, people typically say “Beannachtaí na Cásca ort” (lit. the blessings of Easter on you).  So we don’t have the “sona”/”shona” issue there.  But if you wanted to literally say, “Happy Easter,” you’d use “shona.”

Thanksgiving greetings are probably fairly scarce in Irish, since it’s not an Irish holiday, but if you were going to say “Happy Thanksgiving,” the word “sona” would match up with “,” which is masculine.  Lá Altaithe Sona!  And certainly among the Irish-speaking community in the U.S. or Canada, this would be a reasonably typical thing to say.

“Happy Halloween,” again not a particularly traditional phrase in Irish, would be “Oíche Shamhna Shona!” because “oíche” is feminine.  As it happens, “Samhain,” which changes to “Shamhna” here, is also feminine, but that’s not what governs the phrase here.

At any rate, to sum up:

Nollaig Shona duit!, but

Lá breithe sona duit!

For some further discussion on “happy” vs. “merry,” you might want to check out a previous blog in this series: Happy vs. Merry and All That! (Sona, Meidhreach, srl.) Posted on 12. Dec, 2010 by róislín in Irish Language  (http://blogs.transparent.com/irish/happy-vs-merry-and-all-that-sona-meidhreach-srl/)

For a little more on “Giving Tuesday” in Ireland, you might want to check out their website (http://givingtuesday.ie/).  But I don’t see any actual Irish language there.  In the phrase above, Máirt na Carthanachta, I patterned the phrase for “Giving” on “Seachtain Náisiúnta Carthanachta” (National Giving Week), from “carthanacht” ([KAHR-hun-ukht, first “t” silent], love, charity, friendliness, friendship).  “Máirt na Tabhartha”  [… TOW-ur-huh] and “Máirt an Tabhartais” of course, would be other possibilities.  So far, I don’t see any of these phrase for “Giving Tuesday” in Irish online.

Meanwhile, an bhfuil siopadóireacht Nollag le déanamh agat?  In an upcoming blog, we’ll decide whether to go “-ig,” “-ag,” or “-igí” when talking about Christmas.   Hopefully that will prove to be a POPular topic.  Sorry, James Newell, couldn’t resist — there are so many examples of “-igí” (and “-ígí“) in Irish, I knew an Iggy Pop reference would come up sooner or later.  Slán go fóill — Róislín

Lá (an) Altaithe: Cén Téarma i nGaeilge? — Nuashonrúchán (an update)

Posted on 28. Nov, 2014 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

A few years ago, as some of you may recall, I compared the usage of five different terms for saying “Thanksgiving Day” in Irish.  This is a phrase that traditionally didn’t show up in Irish dictionaries, since Thanksgiving, North American style, is not celebrated in Ireland, or, in fact, i dtír ar bith eile seachas Meiriceá agus Ceanada.

Even as I write this, I’m mulling over some reports that it’s not just Black Friday that has spread from America to other countries, but perhaps even some elements of American-style Thanksgiving itself.  I don’t think there’s much of that yet and I haven’t heard of it being a national holiday anywhere other than the U.S. and parts of Canada, where it is celebrated much earlier (2nd Monday of October) and therefore doesn’t contribute so much to the build-up of Christmas.

I say “American-style” Thanksgiving here, because, in at least one other country (Grenada, October 25), there is a Thanksgiving Day that has more to do with political independence than Pilgrim history.   There are also some other locations where an America-influenced thanksgiving or thanksgiving service is celebrated, including Liberia (1st Thursday of November); Norfolk Island (last Wednesday of November), and Pieterskerk, Leiden.  And of course, internationally, there are all sorts of harvest festivals, but that is getting further and further away from Pilgrim influence as such.  These include the German “Erntedankfest” (early October) and the Japanese “Labor Thanksgiving Day” (勤労感謝の日 Kinrō Kansha no Hi? on 23 November).  But getting into all sorts of harvest festivals would lead us pretty far away from our original topic.

So let’s revisit the original goal of the blaganna from 18 November 2009 and 23 November 2010.  As a point of comparison, we’ll look first at the hits for the English phrase, Thanksgiving Day: 22,000,000.  Obviously, it’s a rough number and doesn’t include all possible references to “thanksgiving” — mind-bogglingly but not surprisingly, that gives us 223,000,000

So how do this year’s results compare to 2009 and 2010, using Google’s filtering to eliminate duplicates and dubious references

Lá an Altaithe –2014: 41 hits (filtered down from an impressive 1,900); 2010: 99 hits; 2009: 44 hits

Lá Altaithe –  2014: 103/104 hits (filtered down from 2,820); 2010: 115 hits; 2009: 45 hits

Both in the raw numbers (2820 vs. 1900) and the filtered results, “Lá Altaithe” without the definite article in the middle (“an” for “the”) seems to be gaining over “Lá an Altaithe” (with the definite article).  This has also been my gut impression of the trend.

As for the other options, still pretty scant:

Lá Buíochais – 2014: 14 hits (filtered down from 46); 2010: 9 hits; 2009: 5 hits

An Lá Gabhála Buíochais – 2014: 6 hits (filtered from 26); 2010: 4 hits; 2009: just 1 hit, found by “guided browsing,” not by “Google” as such, which I used for all the other searches)

In addition, another term surfaced that I hadn’t searched in 2009, since I wasn’t aware of it at the time:

Féile an Altaithe —  2014: 16 (filtered down from 90); 2010: 5 hits, dating as far back as 2004.  The word “féile” has a somewhat religious context, so it could be that some of these refer to harvest festivals, not Thanksgiving à la Uncail Sam.  Hard to say without a lot more chasing down of references.

Now I see that Google enables some time restraints on searches, but that will have to wait for blag éigin eile.  Meanwhile, I think the trend is clear. Based on this admittedly limited evidence, but also on my informal observations over the years, “Lá Altaithe” is gaining over “Lá an Altaithe.”  The other three options are even less well represented.  But all options are increasing somewhat, suggesting that there is gradually more and more discussion of Thanksgiving Day” in Irish.  Which is a good thing!  Why not?  It lets us practice all kinds of interesting vocabulary: bealaitheoir, bior trusála, cnó peacáin, frithaigéad, mónóg, puimcín, súlach, súmhar, and trusáil, among others.  Bhuel, I’ll revisit the topic again, for sure, maybe once more this year, and of course, next year.

Of course, Google isn’t everything,  What do the dictionaries say?

Well, one reason I undertook all this searching was that I couldn’t find “Thanksgiving Day” in any hard-copy Irish dictionary prior to 1995.  Not surprising, for the reasons previously stated.  It’s not an Irish holiday and dictionaries are hard-pressed just to cover basic vocabulary, their own cultural milieu and the truly international terms.  I found one entry for “Lá an Altaithe” in a major online dictionary (irishdictionary.ie), but nothing in several others, and I find two different phrases in two leading pocket dictionaries, wouldn’t you know it:

Lá an Altaithe, per Collins Gem (mini-dictionary), 1995/1999, not specified as “US/Canada, but that seems to be the implication

Féile an Altaithe, per Oxford Irish minidictionary, 1999

So, na torthaí go dtí seo?  “Lá Altaithe” seems to be the people’s favorite.  “Lá an Altaithe” coming second, though it may have the lexicographical edge.  “Féile an Altaithe” lags behind quite a bit, I’d say, despite the Oxford recognition, and may refer to a more general harvest festival.  “Lá Buíochais” and “An Lá Gabhála Buíochais” don’t seem to be catching on by leaps and bounds.   A positive point to note is that all the hits are up, suggesting both that more and more Irish is being spoken in the U.S. and Canada (yay!) and that there’s more interest in the holiday abroad.  Beyond that, more discussion will have to wait until the topic becomes “tráthúil” again, or maybe sooner, if there’s interest.  Anyway, bain sult as an turcaí, an fuílleach, and of course, now on both sides of the lochán, an tsiopadóireacht ar Aoine Dhubh.  Agus Cibearluan.  SGF – Róislín

Tar éis an turcaí, céard a bheas agat? An fuílleach! (the leftovers)

Posted on 25. Nov, 2014 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

An lá tar éis Lá Altaithe 28 Mí na Samhna i mbliana).  Many households in America will be wondering what to do with “na fuílligh,” especially “an turcaí.”  In my experience, the brúitín, líonadh, agus súlach don’t last very long after any meal!

Here are some ideas for foods you can make using leftover turkey; translations below:

  1. anraith turcaí [AHN-ruh …]
  2. anraith turcaí le rís fhiáin [… reesh EE-aw-in]
  3. anraith turcaí le domplagáin
  4. borgairí turcaí (burgair thurcaí)
  5. builín feola turcaí
  6. casaról turcaí
  7. ceapairí turcaí
  8. ceapairí club turcaí
  9. ceapairí Monte Cristo (le liamhás, turcaí agus cáis Eilvéiseach)
  10. cróicéid turcaí
  11. curaí turcaí
  12. enchiladas turcaí
  13. fillteoga turcaí [FILTch-ohg-uh …]
  14. frittata turcaí
  15. gúláis thurcaí [GOOL-awsh …]
  16. lasagna turcaí (nó cupáin lasagna turcaí)
  17. millíní turcaí
  18. panini turcaí agus bagún le maonáis chipotle
  19. pióg phota turcaí
  20. píotsa turcaí
  21. pozole turcaí
  22. quiche turcaí
  23. raiviólaí turcaí
  24. sailéad turcaí
  25. scilléad turcaí fettuccine
  26. seabhdar turcaí [SHOW-dur, with the -ow like “now” or “cow”]
  27. sillí turcaí meilte
  28. sillí pónairí dubha agus puimcín (agus turcaí ann)
  29. stobhach Brunswick turcaí [stohkh … ]
  30. tostados turcaí
  31. turcaí divan
  32. turcaí primavera
  33. turcaí tetrazzini
  34. turcaí à la king le rís
  35. uibheagán turcaí [IV-ug-awn …]
  36. vols-au-vent turcaí agus asparagas

Bíodh goile agat!  SGF — Róislín

P.S. (29 Mí na Samhna) Wouldn’t you know it?  Shortly after finishing this blog, I found more uses, mar dhea, for turkey leftovers, from no less a personality than F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Thanks to Maria Popova’s blog, Brain Pickings, we can now easily read Fitzgerald’s “Turkey Remains and How to Inter Them, with Numerous Scarce Recipes” from his 1945 collection, The Crack-Up.  The selections range from Turkey Cocktail to Turkey with Whiskey Sauce, and are blatantly tongue-in-cheek.  It’s a great quick read and can be found at http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/11/23/f-scott-fitzgerald-turkey-leftover-recipes/ (How to Use Your Turkey Leftovers: 13 Ideas from F. Scott Fitzgerald, by Maria Popova).

As for F. Scott Key Fitzgerald’s Irish connections, they’re pretty blatantly obvious also, with a heritage of McQuillans and Fitzgeralds.  While I don’t know of any particular interest on his part in the Irish language, I could note in passing that his name would translate to “Proinsias Albanach (or “Scot,” the Irish spelling) Mac Aoidh Mac Gearailt.  Whether the “Key” element in his name is actually Irish (Mac Aoidh, son of Hugh), or simply the English word “Key” remains ambiguous, as far as I can tell from the family tree.  But it does remind us that the spelling of surnames can be misleading.  “Key” as an Irish surname comes from the “-c” of “Mac” combined with the “ee” sound of “Aoidh,” which is the possessive form of “Aodh” (Hugh).

I also can’t help noticing that the “whiskey sauce” referred to above is spelled with an “-ey,” suggesting that F. Scott had Irish whiskey in mind.  If it were “whisky sauce,” the implication would be Scotch.  But all of that whiskey/whisky terminology, plus its Gaelic roots (uisce beatha/uisge beatha) will have to be “ábhar blag eile” since this P.S. is now nearly chomh fada leis an mblag é féin.


  1. anraith turcaí, turkey soup
  2. anraith turcaí le rís fhiáin, turkey soup with wild rice
  3. anraith turcaí le domplagáin, turkey soup with dumplings
  4. borgairí turcaí (burgair thurcaí), turkey burgers
  5. builín feola turcaí, turkey meatloaf
  6. casaról turcaí, turkey casserole
  7. ceapairí turcaí, turkey sandwiches
  8. ceapairí club turcaí, turkey club sandwich
  9. ceapairí Monte Cristo (le liamhás, turcaí agus cáis Eilvéiseach), Monte Cristo sandwiches (with ham, turkey, and Swiss cheese)
  10. cróicéid turcaí, turkey croquettes
  11. curaí turcaí, turkey curry
  12. enchiladas turcaí, turkey enchiladas
  13. fillteoga turcaí, turkey wraps
  14. frittatas turcaí, turkey frittatas
  15. gúláis thurcaí, turkey goulash
  16. lasagna turcaí (nó cupáin lasagna turcaí), turkey lasagna (or turkey lasagna cups)
  17. millíní turcaí, turkey meatballs
  18. panini turcaí agus bagún le maonáis chipotle, turkey and bacon panini with chipotle mayonnaise
  19. pióg phota turcaí, turkey pot pie
  20. píotsa turcaí, turkey pizza
  21. pozole turcaí, turkey pozole
  22. quiche turcaí, turkey quiche
  23. raiviólaí turcaí, turkey ravioli
  24. sailéad turcaí, turkey salad
  25. scilléad turcaí fettuccine, turkey fettuccine skillet
  26. seabhdar turcaí, turkey chowder
  27. sillí turcaí meilte, ground turkey chilli
  28. sillí pónairí dubha agus puimcín (agus turcaí ann), black bean and pumpkin turkey, with turkey in it)
  29. stobhach Brunswick turcaí, turkey Brunswick stew
  30. tostados turcaí, turkey tostados
  31. turcaí divan, turkey divan
  32. turcaí primavera, turkey primavera
  33. turcaí tetrazzini, turkey tetrazzini
  34. turcaí à la king le rís, turkey à la king with rice
  35. uibheagán turcaí, turkey omelette
  36. vols-au-vent turcaí agus asparagas, turkey vols-au-vent with asparagus