Word of the day – Samhain

Today’s word, Samhain (/ˈsˠaunʲ/) is the Irish word for November, and also refers to the ancient Celtic festival which was traditional celebrated at this time of year to mark the end of the harvest and the start of the ‘Celtic New Year’. The word samhain comes from the Old Irish samain, which possibly means ‘summer’s end’, though that etymology is uncertain.

The last day of October is known as Oíche Shamhna in Irish and Oidhche Shamhna in Scottish Gaelic, both of which mean the ‘night of Samhain’. It was a time for feasting and to for taking stock of livestock and stores of crops, a custom still observed in some areas.

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This entry was posted in Irish, Language, Words and phrases.

15 Responses to Word of the day – Samhain

  1. yuko says:

    Interesting!
    In Japanese there is a word to call November in a traditional
    way, “霜月”(shimo-tsuki). Shimo means frost in English,
    it’s the month to start having frost in Japan.
    It’s also a season for cropping here.

  2. Seumas says:

    Where is Oidhche Shamhna still ‘celebrated’ in Scotland? I don’t think anyone in Lewis, Harris or Skye has worshipped Samhain (the winter god) since the 1600s. Possibly in Barra you might find some Celts who are a bit more into Paganism…

    But the only people who claim to celebrate Oidhche Shamhna that I’ve ever come across haven’t been Celts at all. They are middle class English people who live/study in Edinburgh. They’re into postmodern reconstructed neo-paganism which they, for some reason unbeknown to Edinburgh’s Celtic population, insist is ‘Celtic’. So they all run around dressed up (or down, as is often the case) on ‘Latha Buidhe Bealltain’ or ‘Oidhche Shamhna’, thinking that they’re being ‘Celtic’.

    It would be like me turning up in Japan, running around in my pyjamas and with plastic nunchukus, insisting I am in the true spirit of the Ninja warrior. That’s the kind of effect these guys have on me as someone who is a Scottish Celt (ethnically and linguistically).

    Ciamar a tha thu a faighinn air adhart leis a Ghaidhlig?

    Seumas

  3. Polly says:

    I like our November holiday, Thanksgiving. Not just because it’s the only TWO DAY holiday we get, either. It’s nice to commemorate the passing of the season each year.

    We may have no more connection to the farming cultures that birthed these traditions, but such celebrations close out the year with time for reflection.

    If some Scotts want to follow in their ancestral traditions, good for them. On the other hand if it’s similar to Seumas’s description, just a bunch of people looking for an excuse to be contrarian using someone else’s ethnic heritage, then that’s a waste.

  4. Polly says:

    @Simon,

    Why doesn’t “One language is never enough” appear in different languages anymore?

  5. Simon says:

    A Seumais – tha mi a faighinn air adhart meadhanach math leis a’ Ghàidhlig.

    Polly – it’s good to see that you’ve been paying attention. “One language is never enough” is now multilingual once more.

  6. Seumas says:

    S e canan doirbh a th’ann. Chan eil e furasda idir.

    Tha thu a deanamh gle mhath! Cum ort leis a Ghaidhlig. A bheil thu direach ag ionnsachadh nad aonar?

    Tioraidh matha

  7. Tomen says:

    Perhaps I’m too used to English/Romance languages, but that seems like a rather odd pronunciation given the spelling. I guess Gaelic doesn’t really lend itself to the Latin alphabet.

  8. Simon says:

    A Seumais – tha, tha mi direach ag ionnsachadh Gàidhlig nad nam aonar. Aig an aon àm, tha mi ag ionnsachadh Gàidhlig na hÉireann, agus beagan Gàidhlig Mhanainneach cuideachd. ‘S urrain dhomh Gàidhlig a’ leughadh, ach chan urrain dhomh i a’ bruidhinn gu math fhathast.

    Tomen – Gaelic spelling makes sense once you understand the system. It’s a lot more regular than English or French.

  9. BG says:

    Isn’t Welsh simpler and more regular than Gaelic, though.

  10. Simon says:

    BG – Welsh spelling is simpler than Gaelic. Each Welsh consonant represents only one sound, though some of the vowels and diphthongs are more complicated. Gaelic consonants can represent up to four different sounds, depending on their position in a word, and which vowels precede and/or follow them.

  11. BG says:

    Oh yeah, in Welsh all the mutations are written in the consonants but not in Gaelic. It also looks the vowels in Gaelic are spelled multiple ways for each vowel.

  12. On a different point, I’m trying to find out the etymology of the Welsh name for England, ‘Lloegr’.

    Can anyone point me in the right direction or, better still, answer the question?

  13. Simon says:

    Sion – I’m going to write a post about Lloegr today.

  14. Colm says:

    @ Tomen

    Gaelic lends itself very nicely to the Latin alphabet if you don’t mind me saying! ;-) Better than the ol’ Sacsbhéarla if you ask me!

    Through, though, cough, tough….

  15. Seumas says:

    Uill, chan eil thu dona air sgriobhadh co-dhiu! Tha e torr nas fhasa nuair a tha thu a bruidhinn Gaidhlig a h-uile latha, ach tha thu a deanamh math-dha-rireibh airson cuideigin ag ionnsachadh na aonar.

    BTW sgriobh thu-sa ‘tha mi direach ag ionnsachadh nad aonar’. Tha sin a ciallachadh ‘I am just learning on your own’. Tha ‘tha mi ag ionnsachadh nam aonar’ ceart: ‘I am learning on my own’. No ‘s urrainn dhut ag radh, ‘Tha mi ag ionnsachadh leam-fhein’ cuideachd; chan eil e gu diofar.

    Nam aonar – on my own
    Nad aonar – on your own (singular)
    Na aonar – on his own
    Na h-aonar – on her own
    Nar n-aonar – on our own
    Nur n-aonar – on your own (plural, formal)
    Nan aonar – on their own

    Mar sin leat, a charaid

    Seumas