Armenian toast is not just about the drink,
but about the words leading up to it.
A visitor to Armenia can learn a lot by sitting
at a dinner table and listening to toasts. They
are an art form here.
Some are short and sweet. Others are so long
they leave guests wondering what the subject of
the toast was.
All, though, have meaning. And there is an order
to how they are given, whether to the host, to
the guests, to the motherland, to ancestors .
As an art, it is natural then that some have
become masters in the art of toast making.
Each table appoints a "tamada", the
toast master, whose responsibility is to administer
toasts. It is also proper for anyone who wishes
to make a toast to first get permission from the
Samvel Muradyan, 41, has been an honored tamada
for 20 years. He says he spends nearly every weekend
offering he unique service, whether the occasion
is joyful or sad.
The toast master enriches toasts with his flowery
"I don't propose many toasts. During weddings
I propose at most 5-6 toasts. But I can tell 100
toasts with suitable quatrains," says Muradyan.
Candidate of historical sciences Armine Stepanyan
says that the Armenian word for toast ('kenats')
means 'to somebody's life'. The initial meaning
summarizes the idea of 'sacrifice to the King'.
A toast is the best way to wish somebody a long
life, health and eternity.
Toasts are proposed standing. According to Armenian
tradition, during all celebrations people drink
to their mothers.
Another tradition is to propose the first toast
to welcome somebody. If it is a wedding celebration,
the first toast is to welcome the father and mother-in-law.
Gayane Gevorgyan, a 52-year old pedagogue, says,
"When paying a visit to somebody, first you
should drink to the host. The second toast can
be proposed to his hearth and relatives."
According to Muradyan, people today are tired
of much talking and listening to admonitions.
"If previously during weddings an aged person
used to drink to newlyweds, telling them his entire
past and preaching to them, today it is different."
Muradyan mentions that the toast master should
choose the right moment to take the lead in the
feast, of course taking into consideration what
kind of people surround him.
As a popular Armenian saying tells, "As
the feasts goes on, the sweeter toasts become."
Usually men drink vodka, while women prefer wine.
"When my glass is being filled, I usually
ask to fill it half full, so that I can fill it
up with my sweet speech," says Muradyan.
"Many people say that 'you should leave some
place for lips'. But shouldn't we fill it up with
He mentions that alcohol beverages are usually
bitter, but when you fill your glass with sweet
words, you get so excited that what you drink
While proposing toasts, people usually fix their
eyes on the glass. The glass gives some internal
power to the toast master to express thoughts.
People also get excited with the clink of their
glasses that finalizes a toast, and after that,
they drink. After drinking it is customary to
say "anush", meaning, roughly, "to
On sad occasions, according to Armenian tradition,
glasses are placed upside down. While drinking
to the deceased, people touch glasses so that
there is no clink. But Muradyan says that this
tradition is gradually being left behind. Today
it is preserved only if the deceased was young.
However, it was different in old Armenia. It was
not permitted to drink to the deceased on the
funeral day, as the soul was still on the earth.
Stepanyan explains, "Only seven or 40 days
later it was allowed to drink to the deceased.
It was thought that his or her soul was already
in the sky. They drank to his memory and the immortality
of the soul."
During a baptism ceremony a toast master has
no right to propose any toast before a clergyman
blesses the table, congratulates the godchild
and godfather and gives the tamada permission
According to Muradyan, a tamada should be patient,
compliant and polite. He should be able to attract
any person quickly.
"My biggest secret is in being patient,"
Muradyan says. "If I don't bear and forbear,
I can't be in my position. I don't drink at all,
I have my special Jermuk. I always take with me
special bells that I use when I feel that the
noise increases and people don't hear each other."