Georgia’s position on the crossroads of Asia and Europe gives it a fascinating melting pot of tradition, culture and flavour, that blend together into something totally original and uniquely Georgian.
Many Georgian traditions are centered around food and wine. The New Wine Festival takes place every year in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.
1. THE LEADER of the table
Food is at the heart of most Georgian traditions and the table, or Supra, is integral to any celebration.The Tamada – toastmaster – is in charge of the smooth running of the meal and importantly, making the toasts. Each toast is interpreted by table members before drinking to it, and one must never drink wine without toasting (though, don’t worry, beer is fine!).
2. Two New Years
The arrival of the New Year is one of the most important celebrations in Georgia – and they celebrate it twice. Once on January 1st, and then on the 14th, known as ‘Old New Year’, according to the Julian calendar. January 2nd is Bedoba, which means ‘a day of luck’. On this day it’s believed whatever happens is how the rest of the year will be so everyone avoids work and keeps up as sunny a disposition as possible to set a good precedent for the next 363 days.
3. Christmas in January
Like in many other Orthodox countries, Georgians celebrate Christmas on January 7th, which equates to December 25th in the Gregorian calendar. On the 7th, many people participate in a parade called an ‘Alilo’. They dress in costume and carry flags as they walk through the streets in celebration.
4.The New Wine festival
This is something of a tradition in the making, but now in its eighth year, the New Wine Festival in the capital, Tbilisi, allows Georgians to celebrate something they consider integral to their history and culture – wine. The festival invites visitors to try the year’s wine harvest, celebrating the young wines produced in the country.
5. Magic mineral water
Georgians believe drinking Borjomi mineral water, from the eponymous town in the centre of the country, can magically cure everything from food poisoning to hangovers. It’s from a volcanic region and is naturally carbonated, giving it a unique flavour and imbuing it with the minerals that supposedly give it its cure-all properties.
6. Georgian wrestling
Khridoli is a historic Georgian martial art that has enjoyed a resurgence since Georgia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It mixes a variety of styles including wrestling, Judo and even swordsmanship into an unusual and skilled sport.
7. Amber wine
A special wine unique to Georgia is its orange or amber wine, made by fermenting grapes in a clay amphora called a qvevri. It’s traditionally used to toast anything from God to family to property to animals, and a shot is drunk from a ram’s horn.
The Georgian proverb ‘Every guest is a gift from God’ goes a long way to explain how hospitable and welcoming Georgians are. Tourists regularly report being invited to stay in mountain communities while hiking, being personally escorted to sites of interest and, of course, fed and watered amply at every turn. Beware though; refusing a drink when offered is considered very bad form indeed!