Lá Altaithe Sona Daoibh! (lah AL-teh-heh SUN-uh DEE-iv!): Happy Thanksgiving to You All!
If you live in the United States, you’re probably preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, but most countries, including Ireland, have traditional ways of celebrating the harvest.
In this post we’ll tell you a little about ancient Irish harvest practices, and give you some Irish words and phrases you might want to trot out at your own holiday table.
It may surprise you to learn that the primary Irish harvest festival is in the modern month of August (In Irish, Mí Lúnasa, pronounced Mee LOO-nuh-ssuh)… Traditionally, in Ireland, the first of August marks the beginning of autumn and the first celebration of the harvest.
The month of August takes its Irish name from the name of the Celtic god Lugh (pronounced “Loo”). Some of you Irish folklore buffs may be more familiar with Lugh as the supernatural father of Cúchulainn.
In Irish mythology, Lugh is said to have established the first of August as a funeral feast for his beloved foster mother Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture.
Pre-Christian Lúnasa observances included cutting and ritually burying the first grain, sacrificing and eating a sacred bull, gathering and eating bilberries, and lighting bonfires on the hilltops, the ashes from which would be used to bless the land.
In modern Ireland, some people in rural areas still celebrate the first of August by building bonfires and dancing, and the Catholic Church ritually blesses the fields.
(You can read more about Lúnasa in this excellent article from Wikipedia, which uses the pre-reform spelling “Lughnasadh.”)
Middle Harvest and The End of Harvest
It’s an indication of just how important the harvest season was to the ancient Irish that the words for “Autumn” and “harvest” are the same: fomhar (FOH-wur).
Even more significantly, the Irish names for the two months that follow Lúnasa (August) are Meán Fómhair (myahn FOH-wir) and Deireadh Fómhair (JER-oo FOH-wir): literally “Middle Harvest” and “The End of Harvest.” These, of course, correspond to the months we know in English as September and October.
The last day of October and the first day of November mark the other big Irish harvest festival: Samhain (SOW-un…the first syllable is pronounced “sow” as in “a female pig”).
You’re probably most familiar with Samhain as the holiday that gave us our modern observance of Halloween (for more on this, see our post on Oíche Shamhna). On the eve of Samhain, the veil between the worlds was thought to grow thin, allowing the dead to mingle with the living.
It was also, however, the final observance of the harvest…a time to take stock of the herd and grain supplies and to decide which animals needed to be slaughtered so that humans and the remaining animals could survive the coming winter.
Some of the rituals of Samhain, including bonfires and divination games, such as bobbing for apples, continue in Ireland to this day.
Harvest celebrations have always been, of course, an essential part of Native American life and spirituality as well, and some of their practices are very similar to ancient traditional practices in Ireland and Great Britain (there’s some good information on three major Native American harvest festivals here).
Though the U.S. and Canada have both set aside specific days for observing Thanksgiving (Canada’s on the second Monday in October and the U.S.’s on the fourth Thursday in November), both are really a continuation of a practice that has existed, in some form or another, throughout the world, for thousands of years.
Wherever they occur or have occurred, in Ireland or the Americas, in ancient times or today, harvest celebrations such as Thanksgiving share a common element: Thankfulness for an abundance and joy that we have enough to survive the coming winter.
Something to think about over your pumpkin pie tomorrow!
Some Irish words and phrases for Thanksgiving
So, as promised, here are a few Irish words and phrases useful for Thanksgiving:
Lá Altaithe Sona Duit (Lah AL-teh-heh SUN-uh ditch): Happy Thanksgiving (said to one person)
Lá Altaithe Sona Daoibh (Lah AL-teh-heh SUN-uh DEE-iv) Happy Thanksgiving (said to multiple people).
Turcaí (TUR-kee): Turkey
Brúitín (BROO-cheen): Mashed potatoes
Anlann Mónóg (AN-lahn MOH-nohg): Cranberry sauce
Súlach (SOO-lukh): Gravy
Prátaí Spáinneachá (PRAH-tee SPAN-yukh-uh): Sweet potatoes (literally “Spanish Potatoes”!)
Pióg phuimcín (PEE-ohg FUM-keen): Pumpkin pie.
Bainigí sult as bhur mbéile! (BWIN-ig-ee sult ass wur MAY-leh!): Enjoy your meal! (all of you!)
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