Irish Language Blog

Happiness Is … Lots of Ways to Say “Happy” in Irish (including “Happy Christmas”) Posted by on Dec 3, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Recently we talked about some of the more whimsical (i.e. jingle-ish) ways to describe Christmas (“Holly Jolly” and “Berry Merry”) in English and pondered their translatability into Irish.  Today let’s get back to the more traditional Irish phrase, and look at its various forms (singular and plural, greeting and response):

Nollaig Shona duit [NUL-lik HUN-uh ditch], Merry/Happy Christmas to you (singular)

Nollaig Shona duitse [NUL-lik HUN-uh DITCH-uh], Merry Christmas to you (singular, the “response” or “back at you” form).  This, or “Agus Nollaig Shona duitse,” would be used if a person has just greeted you with “Nollaig Shona duit” or perhaps in an email exchange that’s almost “i bhfíor-am.”  If you’re sending a greeting card in the mail, I wouldn’t use the “response” form, even if you have received a card from the other person, because so much time will have elapsed.  The response form is created by adding the suffix “-se” [shuh] to “duit.”

Nollaig Shona daoibh [… deev], Merry Christmas to you (plural).  Remember that Irish, like most European languages, has separate words for “you” (singular) and “you” (plural).  In these Christmas greetings, the words for “you” as such (tú, sibh) don’t show up, but they are embedded in the words “duit” (to you) and “daoibh” (to you, plural), as endings (-t, singular; -ibh, plural).

Nollaig Shona daoibhse [… DEEV-shuh], Merry Christmas to you (plural, response form)

So those are the forms.  But why do we say “Happy Halloween” and “Happy Easter” but “Merry Christmas” (stateside) in English? Diabhal a fhios agam!  I just follow the trend that “Christmas” is more typically considered “happy” rather than “merry” in both Irish and British English.  At any rate, “sona / shona” is considered to mean “happy” rather than “merry,” for whatever difference that makes.

You might recognize the word “sona” (happy) from other phrases like “Lá Breithe Sona duit!” (Happy Birthday to you) or “Tá an bhean sona sásta” (The woman is happy content/satisfied).  However, in most cases, the first way Irish learners are told to say “I am happy” is “Tá áthas orm,” which literally means “Happiness is on me.”  There is also an adjective form “áthasach” but it is usually used for things like news and stories; it also means “glad,” “joyful,” and “gleeful.”

Why “sona” [SUN-uh] and not “shona” [HUN-uh] in these two examples?  In the phrase “Lá Breithe Sona duit,” the adjective “sona” describes “,” a masculine noun.  “Nollaig,” on the other hand, is feminine, so it takes the form “shona.”  In the sentence “Tá an bhean sona sásta,” the phrase “sona sásta” is separate from the subject (an bhean).  Similarly, “Tá an chearc beag” (the hen is small) but “Tá an chearc bheag bán” (the small hen is white).  Adjectives in this position in the sentence (technically called “predicate adjectives”) do not agree with their noun in gender, so they will not alternate between lenited forms (shona, bheag) and basic forms (sona, beag).


happiness: gliondar, lúchair, sonas (that’s the noun form of “sona”), and “séan” [shayn, pronounced like the name “Shane” – note the difference from “Seán” and “sean”]

happy: gliondrach, séanmhar, lúchaireach

Still more?

Often the idea “happy” is expressed in a phrase, or is simply implied:

Hanukah faoi mhaise [… fwee WUSH-uh], Happy Hanukah, lit. Hanukah “under” adornment, i.e. flourishing

Athbhliain faoi mhaise [AH-VLEE-in fwee WUSH-uh], Happy (flourishing) New Year

For Kwanzaa (not overwhelmingly the subject of Irish language greetings, in my experience, but one never knows), there seems to be some precedent for using “joyous” (áthasach, gliondrach, lúchaireach, suairc) – take your pick, I guess.  No gender issues to worry about here, since Kwanzaa, as a focal iasachta is a “substantive” (and therefor genderless) noun in Irish.  Seems to me one could use “sona” also, and then the phrase would, in my view, have a slightly better “flow.”

And as a reminder, the traditional Easter greeting is “Beannachtaí na Cásca” (the blessings of Easter), bypassing the word “happy” altogether.

Overwhelmed by the variety?  Well, you can always add to the mix and create a completely new phrase, as Neil Diamond did in his “A Cherry Cherry Christmas,” with its rollicking refrain of “a very merry, cherry cherry, holly holy, rock and rolly Christmas.”  Hmmm, more food for thought.  “Silín silín” doesn’t quite cut it!  My basic recommendation is that if you intend to use any of these phrases in their traditional forms, follow the guidelines – don’t just randomly pick a word for “happy” or for “merry” and try to match it with Christmas, or any other holiday.  But if you want to create your own unique phrase, the world is your “oisre” (to hybridize an English idiom with Irish)! — Róislín

Gluais: iasacht, a loan, a borrowing; silín [SHIL-een], cherry

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  1. Nate:

    Hi! I was wondering if you could help me translate something. I’m interested in the phrase “be happy” and how exactly this would map onto irish gaelic phrases or grammar. I’m not sure yet if it would need to be feminine or masculine form, or if that is even appropriate in this context. Anyways, would love to hear your thoughts before i get it tattooed on my back!!!

    • róislín:

      @Nate A Nate, a chara,
      Thank you for reading the Transparent Language Irish Blog. The answer to your question can be found in this blogpost: How to Say ‘Be Happy’ in Irish and 20 Ways to Say ‘Happy’ Itself: ‘Ádhúil’ to “Toilteanach’ with an Emphasis on “Sona”
      Posted by róislín on Feb 10, 2018 in Irish Language. Hope you enjoy it!

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