Slán, a 2020

Never in my life has this traditional Irish toast been more poignant

The year 2020 has been a rough one for all of us. Some of us have lost loved ones (more than 300,000 in the U.S. alone have died from COVID-19 as of this writing). Some have lost their own health. Many have lost their livelihoods or their homes. Most of us have had to cancel cherished and long-anticipated plans. We’ve all had to adapt to a “new normal,” and many of us have learned that people we once thought of as good and decent have little to no care for others, caring only for their own “FREEEEEE-DUMB.”

Here in my own little part of the world, we’ve dealt with devastating wildfires that drove many of us from our homes and left a good many with no home to return to — and some with loved ones who will never return home at all. We’re mourning the near destruction of an ancient and beloved forest, and we’re still watching the skies nervously for the rain that can cause deadly earth movement in the wake of a wildfire.

Oh yes…let’s not forget “murder hornets.”

No, this is one year I won’t be at all sorry to say goodbye to. To paraphrase a meme currently circulating in Irish language circles, in Ireland it’s traditional to open a door or window on New Year’s Eve to let the old year out — for 2020, we should open all the doors and windows in the hope of getting rid of every last bit of it! I know that I plan to stay up until midnight, by hook or by crook, just so I can throw open the door and scream “good riddance!” when the clock strikes twelve!

Fáilte go 2021

While there’s never a guarantee, I’m holding fast to the hope that the turn of the year heralds better times to come. We now have extremely promising vaccines for COVID-19 and, while the distribution has been slower than promised, still, it IS happening. In the U.S. we’ve elected a new administration that promises to approach the pandemic, as well as the many other ills that threaten both our country and our planet, with the seriousness that they merit. It may not be perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Go mbeirimid beo ag an am seo arís

That said, never in my life has this traditional Irish toast been more poignant: “May we be alive at this time again.” Looking back at 2020, this seems less like a toast and more like a prayer.

Here, then, are my hopes and prayers for 2021:

  • May the day come soon when we can all once again walk, work, worship, mingle, embrace, and sing together freely, without fear.
  • May ALL our world leaders finally begin to take seriously the evils that plague our species and our planet, from climate change and racism to poverty and war, as well as the toxic “individualism” that fuels most, if not all, of these ills. Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine.
  • And yes — may we all live to see another, brighter, New Year’s Eve.

PS: If you are the creator of the image above, or if you know who the creator is, please contact me so I can give you/them proper credit.

Beannachtaí na Bliana Úir Oraibh go Léir!


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM UNABLE TO OFFER TRANSLATIONS VIA THIS WEBSITE OR VIA EMAIL. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A TRANSLATION, PLEASE VISIT THE IRISH LANGUAGE FORUM, WWW.IRISHLANGUAGEFORUM.COM.

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Oíche Shamhna, or Halloween, Old Irish Style

This is the time of year when an ancient Irish celebration turns our world black and orange.

This post originally appeared on my Tumblr blog in October, 2016.

‘Tis the season! This is the time of year when an ancient Irish celebration turns our world black and orange and fills our streets with little (and sometimes not so little) ghosts, goblins, and superheroes.

Happy New Year!

In ancient Ireland, Oíche Shamna, or “Samhain Eve” (“Samhain,” pronounced “SOW-un” (first syllable rhymes with “cow”) is the Irish name for the month of November, and also the name of the Old Irish new year celebration) was a time when the veil between the world of the living and that of the dead was believed to grow thin.

People believed that the dead, both good and bad, could walk among the living on that night. They prepared offerings of food and drink to welcome their beloved dead, as well as to appease spirits who might mean to do them ill.

People also believed that the fairy folk were better able to “cross over” on such a night. Fairies in Irish mythology are not elegant elves or glittery pixies. They are supernatural creatures that are, at best, mischievous, and, at worst, truly terrifying.

For this reason, treats would also be left out to propitiate any visiting fairies in the hope that they would leave the household alone. This eventually evolved into young people dressing up as such creatures (or as deceased ancestors) and going from house to house collecting goodies.

Sound familiar?

A Tradition that Spans Cultures

My recent travels took me to México, where I had the opportunity to view examples of Mexican art, both ancient and modern, with the guidance of local experts. It was quite an eye-opening experience!

I was struck by the similarities between the carvings in the ruins at Huatulco and Puerto Chiapas and some of the carvings on ancient Irish artifacts – particularly the use of the spiral and the “tree of life.”

The real eye-opener, however, was our visit to an art gallery in San José del Cabo that featured artwork based on the upcoming Méxican holiday Dia de los Muertos – The Day of the Dead.

Seeing a familiar holiday in a new light

Of course I was already familiar with Dia de los Muertos. I live in a place where it is widely celebrated. I’d never really given any thought, though, to how similar it is to the ancient Irish observance of Oíche Shamhna, whichover the span of centuries, eventually morphed into our modern Halloween.

The concept of honoring ancestors with their favorite foods and music; the sense of the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead growing thin, allowing the dead to visit the living; the acceptance of mortality as part of the cycle of life rather than something to be dreaded and shunned…all are significant aspects of both celebrations.

Even though I’ve celebrated Halloween all my life (and have known about its Irish roots since high school), and have lived among people who observe Dia de los Muertos for much of my adult life, just how closely the two celebrations are related never really clicked for me until that day in San José del Cabo.

Fascinating, isn’t it? Two completely different pre-Christian cultures, on two continents, evolving what is, essentially, the same celebration.

It gets even more fascinating when you look a little deeper and realize that similar celebrations have evolved on virtually every continent. Really makes you wonder if there might be something to it, doesn’t it?

In any case, I knew that I had to write something about Halloween and its Irish connections when I got home. The problem was (and is) that my travels have left me very short of time, and I wasn’t sure I could give the topic the justice it deserves.

Then I realized that I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

From the Archives

When I worked as a blog writer for Bitesize Irish in 2012 and 2013, I wrote extensively about Halloween, so I dug through my archives and found three posts that I think my followers will find interesting:

Oíche Shamhna (Halloween) Part 1 Happy New Year!: This post describes how the ancient Irish celebration evolved into the holiday we celebrate today.

Halloween Old Irish Style How the ancient Irish observed Oíche Shamhna, with suggestions incorporating some of these traditions into your own Halloween celebration.

Irish Language Phrases for Oíche Shamhna Irish words and phrases appropriate to the season, with phonetic pronunciation.

I hope you enjoy these posts. Please feel free to share the links, but please DON’T copy large blocks of text from them without the approval of the owners of Bitesize Irish.*

Oíche Shamhna shona daoibh go léir! (Happy Halloween to you all!)

GG

* Full Disclosure and a Plug

Or maybe it’s a plug and full disclosure. In any case, if you’re looking for an on-line program for learning Irish, Bitesize Irish is one I highly recommend (And not just because I used to work there.That’s the disclosure part. Don’t worry…I left on good terms, and still pop in from time to time in a supporting capacity)

The program is designed as a series of very short, “bite-sized” lessons, each of which can be completed relatively quickly. Lessons are categorized as “Grammar,” “Vocabulary,” and “Conversation,” and feature audio recorded by a native speaker.

Pricing is on a sliding scale depending on how much of the program you want to access. It’s a month-to-month set-up, so you can always leave (or upgrade!)

Bitesize offers extensive support, and additional resources, including frequent podcasts and a private Facebook group.

Anyway, if you’re looking for an affordable way to get started learning Irish, give it a look!

www.bitesizeirish.com

Slán go fóill, and Happy Trick or Treating!

GG


In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of  The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada.  For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/

PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM UNABLE TO OFFER TRANSLATIONS VIA THIS WEBSITE OR VIA EMAIL. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A TRANSLATION, PLEASE VISIT THE IRISH LANGUAGE FORUM, WWW.IRISHLANGUAGEFORUM.COM.