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Comhaireamh Síos go Lá (an) Altaithe Posted by on Nov 18, 2009 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

For years, I wondered what the best way would be to say “Thanksgiving Day” or “Happy Thanksgiving!” i nGaeilge.  Since it’s not a traditional holiday in Ireland, or Europe in general for that matter, there is no real precedent for this particular phrase.

I’ve experimented with several versions, and since the advent of Google, I’ve checked ar líne from time to time to see what others are using.  Prior to ready access to the Idirlíon, it wasn’t easy to check up on these types of questions.


1) Lá an Altaithe – 44 hits (use of the definite article is almost “gob ar ghob” with the version without the definite article)

2) Lá Altaithe – 45 hits

3) Lá Buíochais – 5 hits

4) an Lá Gabhála Buíochais – 1 hit (but found by “guided browsing,” not by “Google”)

The first two options come from the verb “altaigh” (give thanks, generally implying to God), which has the verbal noun form “altú” (to give thanks, giving thanks, act of giving thanks).  Put the verbal noun in its possessive form (for the idea of “of Thanksgiving”) and you get “altaithe.” 

Buíochas” means “thanks” or “gratitude” and here is in the possessive, so it has an extra “i.”  In its “root” form, it’s really widely used in the phrase “Buíochas le Dia” (thank God, or as many say, “Thanks be to God,” lit. “thanks with God).

The idea of using “gabháil” (taking, giving, catching, invading, seizing, assuming, accepting, srl., srl.!) or “gabhála,” its possessive form, seems definitely in the minority in this small sample, so I’d recommend using one of the shorter forms. 

As for the “Happy” part?  Again, these are all basically by analogy, since there’s no traditional precedent.  Most straightforward is “sona,” as we also see in the phrases “Lá Breithe Sona duit” or “Nollaig Shona duit.”  Why “sona” in some cases and “shona” in others?  Sona” is used for masculine nouns and “shona” for feminine ones.  This refers to the key noun in the phrase, like “” for “lá breithe.”  I’ve seen “shona” used for “Happy Birthday” all over the Internet, but there’s no real reason for lenition in that case.  For “Happy Thanksgiving,” the same rule applies, with “sona” modifying “” itself, not “altaithe” or “buíochais.”  So we have “Lá Altaithe Sona” or “Lá Buíochais Sona” or “ Lá Gabhála Buíochais Sona,” and of those, “Lá Altaithe Sona” certainly seems to be the most straightforward.  Christmas (Nollaig) is feminine, hence “Nollaig Shona.”

Two other options for saying “happy” are “faoi shéan” and “faoi mhaise,” basically meaning, literally, “under happiness / prosperity” and “adorned / under adornment.”  The latter is typically used for “Happy New Year!” – “Athbhliain Faoi Mhaise!”  Note that for “Happy” New Year, we’re not really using the adjective “happy,” but instead a phrase meaning “adorned.”  Sometimes these phrases are doubled up for New Year’s (Athbhliain faoi Shéan agus faoi Mhaise.”  But more on that ar an 31ú lá de mhí na Nollag!

You may have been wondering how the well known phrase, “Go raibh maith agat” (thank you, usually to a person) fits into all this.  It doesn’t really, except thematically!  GRMA,” as many write it now, literally means “may there be good at you,” so it doesn’t actually use the verb “to thank” or the noun “gratitude.”  It is however, I’d venture, much more widely used than the verb “altaigh / altú,” since we use it constantly in daily conversation.  Altú” does show up in various phrases, certainly, but not like GRMA.  Some examples are “ag altú buí” (saying grace) and “deoch altaithe” (a drink at the end of a meal).   

And just “ar son cuimsitheachta,” I’ll note here that Thanksgiving, as such, is celebrated both i Meiriceá agus i gCeanada, albeit on different days.  I’ve seen it described ar an Idirlíon as a “100% American holiday,” but we should always remember the Canadian aspect.  So I hope this blog will be of interest to lucht labhartha na Gaeilge ó Thalamh an Éisc go dtí an Cholóim Bhriotanach agus Yukon.

Next up, cranberries et al. i nGaeilge.  I’ve still never found an Irish equivalent for “succotash,” which we should be eating at this time of year in honor of na hIndiaigh who helped the Pilgrims survive their first year in America.  Much “food for thought”! 

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  1. stephen Fitzpatrick:

    i would like to say Thank You from time to Time to Any, All and whoever spends their Time Posting These Blogs. With so much Free Things available on the Internet it is easy to Forget someone had to take the time to sit down and plan it, type it out and make it interesting…which it is. Thanks much for your sharing and may Gaelic continue to Rise in te Ranks of the Irish People, here, there and Anywhere.

  2. Róislín:

    Go raibh míle maith agat, a Stiofáin. Tá áthas orm go mbaineann tú sult as an mblag. GRMMA freisin as glacadh an ama a bheith ag scríobh.

    Thank you very much, Stephen. I’m glad you enjoy the blog. Thanks also for taking the time to write. – Róislín

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