Ah, Georgian supra.
If you held me at gunpoint and asked me to pick a single aspect of my country to showcase to foreigners, it’d undeniably be the Georgian supra.
Well-known across the world and amidst travelers as the Georgian feast, supra is far more than just a chance to eat and drink to your heart’s content. In all honesty, the Georgian supra is a cultural and social event—an opportunity to form bonds with family, friends, and guests around a table.
Also a chance to drink. A lot. A lot.
But drinking is far more than just the general merriment brought by wine, and toasting goes beyond “cheers”. In Georgia, toasting during supra is of utmost importance. It’s an event that requires all the etiquette and protocol the occasion demands.
And you, my dear reader, will get to enjoy a VIP towards the beauty of Georgian toasts.
Before embarking on the perilous journey that is understanding Georgian toasts, it’s fundamental to know the basics of supra etiquette.
Georgian supra are, by their very nature, festive. They take place on special occasions and are always a celebration of life. Big blessings, little miracles, and everything in-between are discussed and praised, in meticulous order.
And in charge of that order is the ringleader of the celebration. They are the tamada, and their role is one of the most important ones during supra.
The tamada must have a way with words. Through clever affirmations, intelligent references to culture, and a witty sense of humor, they must guarantee each toast during the supra remains entertaining and lively. The toasts are always positive and uplifting, and the tamada has the task of keeping the meeting that way.
An essential factor to consider is that the tamada does not precisely have to be the host of the supra. In fact, the host can choose anyone he deems appropriate as the tamada of the evening, and some men become the staple tamada of choice for many Georgian supra.
While this role has traditionally been masculine in nature, younger generations have started to assign the role of tamada to women of equally impressive skills and seniority. It remains rare, but it’s part of the natural evolution of this tradition.
How to toast.
While in the West most are content to simply utter a phrase and yell “cheers!” before chugging down our drink, in Georgia, there are a set of unspoken rules and methods to follow.
The tamada starts a toasting round by providing the topic meant to be celebrated. He stands up and delivers a small speech featuring the chosen theme, its importance, the emotions it evokes, and whatever miscellaneous specifications he decides to include.
Once he is done, it’s time for the toast. It’s an unspoken rule that, after each toast, the tamada should be able to completely empty his glass. Naturally, this means he must hold his liquor and not show signs of tipsiness, even after hours of toasting. However, guests are not required to empty their glasses each time, although they’d be most certainly encouraged to drink.
After the tamada has given his speech—that can last several minutes if so he wishes—the discussion is open. Anyone else who wants to contribute to the topic may provide his or her point of view, although anyone may opt-out if they do not wish to speak.
In an ideal supra, all guests would drink from their glass after each toast of that round. However, since it’s not viable to do so on large gatherings, guests are not obliged to drink on toasts done by anyone other than the tamada.
After every guest made a toast about the chosen topic, that round is over, and they may proceed to eat. After some time, the tamada starts the next topic, and the cycle continues for hours.
The topics chosen by the tamada are as varied as his imagination and creativity. Many of them often focus on the particular occasion the supra is dedicated to, with room for improvisation. However, there is a list of mainstay topics that, tradition dictates, must be stated in every Georgian supra.
While the order in which these toasts are said in has slight variations from region to region, the general structure remains the same across the country.
The first toast.
Okay, I lied a bit there. The first toast is not precisely the first toast. Consider it a toast zero.
It’s rather common for the tamada of a Georgian supra to be someone other than the host or head of the family organizing the feast. Subsequently, the toast zero tends to be the designation of the tamada.
Beyond his oratory skills and way with words, the tamada is, most of all, a respected member of the family or social circle celebrating the supra. Usually, his ranking is a mixture of seniority and skills.
The head of the family and primary host, then, leads the introductory toast in honor of the tamada, making way for his role during the event.
Toast to God.
Georgia is a deeply religious country. While open and tolerant of many beliefs, we remain overwhelmingly Orthodox, and Christianity has played an essential role in our identity as a nation across the centuries.
So, it’s not a surprise that the very first toast is, usually, in the name of God.
The tamada is free to proceed as he wishes—in prayer, or perhaps a small analytical introduction to the role of religion in the table, and the blessings the Lord has provided.
Toast to Georgia.
Georgia’s road towards freedom and independence has been as rocky as some of its mountains, to say the least.
Needless to say, this has made us proud of our homeland and what it means to be a Georgian. As such, we often toast to the glory of Sakartvelo.
If a foreigner—such as you!—joins the table during a Georgian supra, expect the tamada to include their home country during the toast to Georgia. He may briefly discuss the history between the two nations, and raise his glass for the exaltation of both.
Toast to peace.
In Georgia, our hello is gamarjoba—a word that comes from our term for victory. Victory against oppression and conflict. The triumph of seeing yet another day.
We have a bloody history, full of war and struggle. Conquer, and subjugation. As such, every little pleasure of everyday life is a victory, and peace is a valuable treasure.
Expect the tamada to raise his glass for peace. To keep it, admire it, appreciate it, and extend it for as long as possible.
Toast to the deceased.
Supras are celebratory. However, that does not mean we do not honor the deceased and departed.
During this toast, the tamada prays for their wellbeing and peace in the afterlife, and we remember with love and solemnity those that cannot physically be with us on the table.
This, however, is not meant to be somber. It’s a way to keep the reminiscence of those we love close to our hearts during each moment of joy. We are inviting their memory to celebrate our bliss with us.
It’s, in simpler terms, honoring the past.
A toast to life and children.
Life and death are inexorably linked together, so it’s an unwritten rule to celebrate life after honoring the defunct during a Georgian supra.
Whether it is to celebrate the day each was born, the children blessing the families, or simply the concept of life in opposition to death, the tamada must honor the blessing of seeing yet another day.
If the toast to the deceased honors the past, the toast to life and children goes towards the future.
A toast to parents.
Family is quintessential in Georgian culture—everything revolves around those closest to you. Hospitality and supra all are reflections of this deep respect towards the family.
Then, it shouldn’t surprise you that a toast to our parents and grandparents is obligatory around the table. Whether they are sitting on the table, away in a different city, or already departed, the tamada honors the efforts of parents and grandparents for bringing us to this world and making us the men and women we are today.
A toast to the guests.
Hospitality in Georgia is legendary and well-known. A guest is a blessing from God, and we always do whatever it takes to guarantee they feel welcomed, safe, and satisfied under our roof.
Subsequently, it’s custom to organize a supra to welcome guests visiting us from far away. In those cases, the tamada will always save a special toast towards them.
While the speech depends on the tamada’s creativity, it always expresses gratefulness to the guests for their arrival. Likewise, it highlights the bonds between the people involved and wishes them well in their future endeavors.
A toast to the event.
If the supra is taking place to celebrate or commemorate a particular occasion, a toast dedicated to it may take place amongst the very first ones.
If it is a wedding, the tamada will make sure to raise his glass for the newlyweds and include a speech about love, fate, new beginnings, and every other topic associated with the cause.
Similar speeches will happen in the case of graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, and any other sort of circumstances surrounding the supra.
A toast to the late guest.
In Georgia, we move at Georgian time. Meaning, there’s always the possibility that we arrive a little late.
Don’t be surprised if you see one of the guests arrive after the tamada has given his first toasts, so it’s custom to poke fun at them by making a toast in their name. It’s usually tongue-in-cheek and humorous and involves making the honored guest drink as much as possible in a single go.
Afterward, the tamada may choose to start a toast to the timely guests, if only to keep teasing the late one.
While the order of toasts has regional variations, the aforementioned are, roughly, the quintessential ones you are bound to experience in almost every Georgian supra.
But they’re far, far from the only ones.
After fulfilling expectations and making the obligatory toasts, the tamada is free to rise his glass for any particular topic he wishes. In essence, his creativity is the only limit.
Common topics include love, happiness, historical figures, happy memories, or any discussion the attendees may have throughout the supra.
But like all good things, even the supra must come to an end. Even if it doesn’t seem that way at first.
There are specific toasts that, when mentioned, announce the wrapping up of the feast. One of them is the toast to the host family, sometimes made by the tamada, and sometimes made by a guest who has to leave. This is often the first signal of the upcoming end.
From then on, the toasts start taking a closing tone. The tamada may toast for future encounters, for the delicious food eaten today and the cooks responsible for them, for religion, and for the next time they can meet again.
Not everything is toasts, though.
The overwhelming number of toasts led by the tamada may make you believe that Georgian supra are extremely formal activities with little room for anything else. However, nothing further from the truth.
Between each toast, there are copious amounts of food to be shared. The table will never be empty, as the hosts will keep replacing plate after plate with all sorts of delicacies straight from the best of Georgian cuisine.
Likewise, chit-chat and merriment are aplenty. Music is quintessential to every supra, and sometimes the attendees will engage in traditional Georgian polyphonic singing, delighting guests and visitors with the beauty of this UNESCO intangible heritage.
One last tip.
Holding your liquor is essential to survive a Georgian supra, as is keeping your stomach full and mind clear. If you’re lucky enough to attend this feast, your hosts will encourage you to drink to your heart’s content. Be aware of your limitations, and don’t be afraid to decline as politely as you can.
And don’t forget—cheers in Georgian is gaurmajos.