I want to try to explain the traditional supra (specifically the drinking part) that is so essential and special to the culture here in Georgia. I have been to a couple of supras for various reason and various degrees of ‘specialness’. I have not been to a wedding supra yet, which from I hear is a whole other level of tradition. But what follows are the basic rules of the custom from what I have observed thus far. Native Georgians or other people living in Georgia who have participated in the supra, please feel free to your observations.
You don’t really NEED a reason to have a supra. It can be as simple as friends on a trip together or celebration of a great weekend. The number of people can vary as well from three to 300+. But I have found that the true spirit of the supra is revealed when there is a special occasion or familial event.
Georgian supra is rooted in the Bacchic tradition, in which reverence for the grape influences the oral traditions embedded in toast-making. The traditions of the Georgian table space the drinking out over the course of the meal. (Some more of the more important toasts require drinking your glass to the bottom as a sign of respect.)
Here are some of the rules (I think).
- You cannot drink until the tamada (toastmaster) has made his toast and drinks. Only then, and usually in order around the table, can other revelers repeat the toast and drink. All others present must drink to this same theme.
- Never propose a different toast unless you are given permission: that is an offense to the tamada.
- To actually drink out of your glass, usually you add on to the theme with your own toast (to that theme). Or a shortcut that was told to me by my host father (since I didn’t know the language well) was to just say ‘gamarjos’ to all the other toasts. You don’t have to drink all the wine in your glass in one gulp. If you have any left though, it will shortly be filled to the brim for the next round of toasts. You cannot drink the wine except during toasting. You don’t have to drink at all actually. You can forego a toast or two…. to prepare for the next round.
- Most Georgian homes have a large ram’s horn. This will invariably be brought out at some point during the meal, filled with wine and handed to an honored guest. Usually you must drink this to the bottom… because it doesn’t have a bottom to sit upright on the table. I’ve also seen a clay dish looking vessel that serves the same purpose.
- If the toast is made to you or America or in any way bears directly upon your presence, you must wait to drink until everyone else has gone before you. Your toast in response should be one of thanks.
- Usually there is an order to the toasts. The subjects that I tend to hear over and over are: to peace, to the reason for the gathering, to the hostess, to parents and ancestors, to Georgia as motherland, to friends, to the memory of those who have died, to life, to children, to the women, to each guest present, sometimes individually, sometimes combined. After this the tamada usually allows anyone who so desires to make a toast.
During supras, usually during the end when everyone is good and lit, there are poems recited and songs sang. I even saw a guy break out a guitar. All the while food and more food just keeps on coming out of the kitchen. Usually the women have their own conversations on the other end of the table. Not to say they don’t interact with the men or join conversations.
I tend to eat moderately fast. Eating was never an event for me. When I finished in America, I got up from the table and did other things. I think since I am the guest here, there is ALWAYS another person sitting with me until I am finished. Anyone will suffice, Nika down to Grandpa (well anyone except Nino). Supras are a marathon of eating and drinking. They last for hours. Sitting, talking, laughing and drinking. I need to quickly learn to change my disposition when it comes to eating, especially during supras. There is sooo much food. Sometimes there are plates on top of plates on top of plates. I am not exaggerating. And all of it usually looks so good. But the moral of the story: slow and steady wins the race.
I had previously thought before coming to Georgia, in reading about supras and drinking, that it was a drunk fest at every meal. That is not the case. My host family never drinks, for whatever reason, except at supras. And my host father doesn’t drink then, unless he isn’t driving. Once we had a lunch with beer, but that wasn’t really a supra. There is also a liquor that they make and serve, called Tcha-tcha, that is used to take the supra to the next level. It is wickedly strong. But I have only had Tcha-tcha in the villages. And the one supra where there was liquor present, it was Jack Daniels. But again, different supras in different areas have different things available. Some friends only have Tcha-Tcha at their supras. So it really depends on the region and living status.
So that’s what I have so far. I will continue to observe for different variations of and update corrections to this wonderful tradition.
Next exhibit: The Marshut’ka.