Thanksgiving in Georgia

A late “happy Thanksgiving” to all my American readers. You might not realize this, but the cretins in the rest of the world don’t celebrate that holiday, so I didn’t have a proper Thanksgiving. I found that it’s actually quite sad to be away from that sort of thing. It’s not so much that Thanksgiving is the greatest thing in the world (though it’s pretty good), but it’s another American cultural artifact that I have taken for granted. It’s easy to forget that we as Americans are a distinct ethnic group with our own peculiarities, and missing Thanksgiving was a reminder of that.

Fortunately, there was a Georgian holiday the day after Thanksgiving: Saint George’s Day. It’s not clear to me how big of a deal the day is. We had a day off at school, but on the other hand it is celebrated twice a year. Whatever. What’s important is that I was invited to a supra in the tiny village of Anaga (with the host family of an American friend of mine there).

supra is a big feast, not unlike a Thanksgiving meal, except that they are held pretty frequently. Usually the people sit at a long table, and the table is piled with food (and I mean open plates of food are literally stacked on top of each other, which is annoying). The cuisine selection seems to include everything which is available at the time: whatever fruits are in season, beans, several different kinds of meat, and a variety of cakes and candies.

And, of course, there is wine. Georgians love wine. Or perhaps I should say that Georgian men love wine, since I haven’t seen any Georgian women drink more than a single glass. Indeed, at some supras I have been to, all the men sit at one end of the table and get drunk and rowdy, while the women sit at the other end and stay relatively quiet. The vibe at such an event is as weird as it sounds.

last supper supra

A typical Georgian supra

A strange thing about the supra (strange from an American perspective, at least), is that the drinking is completely ritualized. Rather than having everyone take sips when they want and refill their glasses when they need to, everyone drinks at the same time and gets refilled at the same time. The intervals of drinking are dictated by the tamada, or toastmaster. One man (or woman, if it’s one of the all-lady supras I’ve heard about) does all the toasting for the event, and he will give a toast every ten minutes or so, at which time everyone drinks (usually about two thirds of a glass). The toasts generally cover a standard range of topics: a toast to peace, a toast to dead friends and family, a toast to parents, to children, to siblings, to Georgia, to the head of the Georgian church, to Tbilisi, to the hosts of the party, to some other guest of honor, and the like. Note that you drink after every one of these, so you can generally expect to drink, depending on how much you drink at each toast, between 5 and 12 glasses of wine at a supra. The wine is homemade, and despiting being fairly sweet (which I like), it will get you wasted.

Anyway, ten or so glasses of wine into this supra, I was asked to give a toast. The following is fairly accurate transcription of my extemporaneous bilingual toast. In brackets are translations, which I did not say, of the Georgian (and by the way, the feast was held on Saturday, the day after Saint George’s Day):

Gushin Sakartweloshi aris Giorgis dghe, ho? Aba, gushin’s gushin Americashi aris Madlobtsdghe [Yesterday in Georgia it is George’s day, yes? Well, yesterday’s yesterday in America it is Thanksday]. We eat turkey and cranberry sauce, which is a bit like katami da brotseuli [chicken and pomegranate, which was being served]. In some families, they go around the table and have everyone say what they’re thankful for. I think this is a dumb practice, but nevertheless I find it appropriate today. So I’ll say what I’m thankful for: being invited to this feast with all of you. Tkweni sakhli lamazia, da katsebi, kalebi, baushwebi, kargia [Your house is beautiful, and the men, the women, the children, they are good.] This is all very nice. So I say cheers to you, my friends in Anaga. Tkwen, chemi megobarebi Anagashi, gaumarjos.

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