How do you say “Happy New Year” in your target language? It’a question I’ve had to ask myself as I saw in New Years past in Wales, Germany and Russia. The answers remind me, first, that direct translation is not always the name of the game in language learning. As we explore a few New Year’s phrases, we’ll get a quick glimpse of some of the linguistic nuts and bolts holding together even in the shortest snippets of language. Plus, I’ll tell you a bit about how each country celebrates New Year…. Let’s party!
Happy New Year in Welsh
New Year’s Eve in Welsh is “Nos Galan”. New Year’s Day is “Dydd Calan”. The word “calan” comes from Latin kalendae and means the first day of each Roman month. There’s an English equivalent: “calend” that has fallen out of use, but survives in “calendar”. In Wales “calan” is commonly used also in Calan Haf/Calan Mai (first day of summer, 1 May) and Calan Gaeaf (the first day of winter – 1 November).
The basic New Year’s greeting translates directly into English: “Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!” Year (blywddyn) New (newydd) (dda) Good. You’ll see at once that Welsh adjectives to follow the noun (usually), just like in Spanish or French.
Welsh has two grammatical genders, masculine or feminine. “Blwyddyn” is feminine. In many European languages that have grammatical gender, such as French, Polish or Spanish, the adjective changes to match the gender of the noun. In Welsh, it’s different. What happens is that the beginning of adjectives change (if they start with t, p, c, m, d, b or g) when they qualify a feminine noun: da (good) becomes dda. That’s why it’s Nos Galan (nos is feminine) but Dydd Calan (dydd is masculine). Welcome to “mutation” (a common feature of all Celtic languages).
Learning set phrases like “Blwyddyn Newydd Dda” is a way good way to sound naturally fluent. You have a burst of language you can use straight off when you need it. If you learn this way, the correct gender and mutation hard-wired. Plus, set phrases help you cement the gender for when you use the word “blwyddyn” in another context. If you remember Blwyddyn Newydd Dda, you know that blwyddyn is feminine.
Just as in English, “Blwyddyn Newydd Dda” can be used throughout the day or two before New Year, as the clock strikes midnight and for a few days at the beginning of the new year.
New Year celebrations in modern Wales are much the same as in England but are enlivened by an old tradition that’s now undergoing a revival: a visit from the Mari Llwyd, a mare’s head parading about on a stick. Love it!
Happy New Year in German
As I’ve mentioned before on the site, the Germans have the lovely habit of naming the “no man’s land” between Christmas and New Year as “zwischen den Jahren”. For example: “Zwischen den Jahren bleibe ich zu Hause” (I’m staying at home between Christmas and New Year). Is there any equivalent in your target language?
Did you know that 31st December is St Sylvester’s Day? “Das Silvester” is the German “New Year’s Eve”. New Year’s Day is “das Neujahr”.
Before the clock strikes midnight, if you want wish somebody a happy new year in very idiomatic German you could say, simply, “Guten Rutsch”.
Here we have the adjective “gut” and the noun “der Rutsch”, slip, slide.
We can at once see that the adjectives come before the noun in German. Here the adjective has declined, as the critters are wont do in German, both for case (four in German) and gender (three: masculine, feminine and neuter).
In “guten Rutsch” we have the masculine accusative form of “gut” because the “Rutsch” is the object of the action in the sentence. What sentence, you may ask? Well, the full phrase is just implied here, but you could also say it: ich (wir, etc) wünsche(n) dir (Euch/Sie einen guten Rutsch (ins neue Jahr) (zu kommen).
As well as starting a campaign to rename 27th to 31st December “between the years”, I think I’m going to start using an appropriately revelrous idiomatic English translation Guten Rutsch. How about “Tumble well into the New Year”?
One word of caution: like “Gute Reise” (Have a good journey!) or “Guten Appetit” (Enjoy your meal!), you can only say “Guten Rutsch” BEFORE the the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve. Once the New Year is a fact, even a second after midnight, Germans say “Frohes Neues Jahr” or, informally, “Frohes Neues”. That’s what you might say in the first few days of the New Year when you see somebody for the first time that year, as well (thanks to regular reader Harald for pointing this out to me).
As the German “Sprachraum” (German-speaking territories) is so varied and rich in tradition, there are no end of local New Year’s celebrations to discover.
When I was living in Heidelberg in the mid 1990s there was always a New Year’s firework display up on Heidelberg castle, which many would watch from the town’s bridges.
At the time, the idea of New Year fireworks was unusual for a Brit. It’s only since the Millennium that New Year fireworks have been the norm in England. One of the more bizarre modern ones, in the FRG, is the annual New Year’s Eve screening of the short English sketch “Dinner for One”. I was oblivious to this during my German years, I have to admit.
Happy New Year in Russian
In Russian New Year’s Eve is is “Новогодняя ночь” (novogodnyaya noch’). New Year’s Day is “День Нового года” (den’ novogo goda). Like in English and German, in Russian the adjective comes before the noun: новогодняя (novogodnyaya/New-Yearish) ночь (noch’/night); день (den’/day) нового (novogo/new) года (goda/year). New and Year are in the masculine genitive, showing that the day is possessed by them: “the New Year’s Day”, as it were.
The standard greeting is “C новым годом” (s novym godom). The preposition “c” here means “with”. A fuller rendition of the phrase could be something like “поздравляю с новым годом” (pozdravlyayu s novym godom/lit. “I congratulate with the New Year”). In Russian you congratulate people “with” something, not “on” it: поздравляю с днем рождения (pozdravlyayu s dnem rozhdeniya/congratulations on your birthday – lit. “I congratulate with day of birth”); поздравляю со свадьбой pozdravlyayu so svad’boi/congratulations on your wedding – lit. “I congratulate with wedding”).
“C новым годом”: three short words and we’re already deeper still into the Russian case system. There’s the masculine singular instrumental adjectival ending – ым and the equivalent noun ending -oм.
If you’re on a roll, you could get some practice declining the ordinal numbers at this time of year as well: “поздравляю с новым 2020-м годом” (pozdravlyayu s novym 2020-m godom/lit – “I congratulate with new 2020th year”).
In Russian, you can also say “с наступающим (новым годом)” (s nastupayushchim (novym godom)) or “с наступившим” (past active participle, perfective verb form) to give your declined verbal participles a mid-winter work out.
Here we have, first, the active present participle, imperfective verb form of наступать (nastupat’/to begin, set in). In the second phrase, the verb, наступить (nastupit’/to begin, set in), is in its active past participle form.
How come there are two verbs for “begin”. Well, with these phrases, we’re also already in up to our necks with Russian verbal “aspect”. Yes, there are two forms of most verbs, the perfective for use, broadly, when an action is completed or a one off and the imperfective for when it is not.
Celebrating New Year was the main gig at this time of year back in the Soviet Union, when the official policy of state atheism meant that religious festivals were frowned upon. Дед мороз (Ded Moroz/Grandpa Frost), the traditional Slavic equivalent of “Father Christmas”, was initially banned but soon rehabilitated. An authentic Ded‘s garb should have a bit of light blue about it (not all this red from the West!). He’s also often even more camp and elaborate than his Western counterpart.
Here he is in action in something I found on the Toob which includes the immortal line мой дед мороз, мой дед мороз, дай укушу твой красный нос! (My Ded Moroz, my Ded Moroz, let me peck your red nose (it rhymes in the original)). A reminder (if I needed one) that it’s high time that I got back to Russia and for you, in and of itself, sufficient justification to get started learning Russian 🙂 🙂
In post Soviet times the “Christmas tree” has remained the New Year’s tree: новогодняя ёлка.
Now Christmas itself is back with a vengeance….but not till the seventh of January.
On New Year’s Eve in Russia today there is typically a big party in the centre of Moscow (and many other cities) with an address from the president broadcast on a big screen.
I first saw in 1992 in Russia in the middle of my first year in the country. I was back back living in Russia from 2004 to 2009. In New Year 2005, for the first time, all the otherwise working days between New Year’s Day and the Russian Orthodox Christmas became one long public holiday. Some native wags suggested at the time that this was just the government recognising the inevitable, that your average Russian muzhik (geezer) wouldn’t have sobered up from New Year Year’s celebrations in the interim anyway.
The long New Year’s holiday quickly became a an institution in Russia but that first one rather put the cat among the pigeons.
Whereas the creation of a new public holiday in the UK would require years of consultations, the Russian government, in true autocratic style, just announced the change with very little notice. I recall a mad scramble at the law firm as we sought to get docs signed and sent off before the couriers started their six day break. Some colleagues were grumbling because it was too late to book flights and trips at a low price for a New Year trip. The following year, we’d all planned properly.
What about Happy New Year in your language? Does the phrase translate literally? What grammar can it teach you? Have you had chance to see in the New Year with native speakers yet? If not, is that something you could aim to do when 2020 becomes 2021? Would that be a suitable motivation and reward for the coming year’s active work on your language?
Happy New Year/Bonne année/Blwyddyn Newydd Dda/Guten Rutsch/Hyvää uutta vuotta/Boldog új évet/Feliz Ano Novo/Urte berri on/Selamat Tahun Baru/С новым годом/Καλή χρονιά!/Gleðilegt nýtt ár/明けましておめでとうございます!