Traditions and rules of Ossetian celebratory meal
Ossetians, managed to save strong patriarchal-ancestral bonds, traditions and customs of their ancestors along with great socio-political development. One of the most interesting and important traditions is Ossetian table etiquette, with its many “permissible-not permissible”, “acceptable-not acceptable.” However, traditions can change a little between neighbouring villages or depending on the origin of a certain community. Despite the minor differences, there is always the same major set of rules, which originated centuries ago and which opens up the character and inner world of this ancient nation. Next, we will try to describe the general rules of Ossetian celebratory meal. We hope that they will be read by not only Ossetians themselves, but also by representatives of other nations, who are not ignorant to the history and culture of sarmats-alans-ossetians.
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For Ossetians, traditional celebratory meal has never been just a place for eating, drinking and conversation. It is closely linked with their faith, way of life and norms of behaviour. For someone who has never had anything to do with Ossetian table etiquette, the number of unwritten rules and limitations which are followed in Ossetia even at this day, can seem strange and overly strict. But for an Ossetian, these norms are a part of his being and world outlook, part of his spiritual and moral heritage.
Official religions have become official in Ossetia not too long ago and that is why Ossetians most often prayed to God and Saints at the table. This is where the place of the meal “Fyng”(literally-“table”) was also a sacred place, where unethical behaviour and other freedoms of that kind were absolutely not allowed. A while ago, (now no longer with us), famous Ossetian movie star Bibo Vataev told us, young people:
“Our ancestors did not have churches and mosques. Fyng was their most accessible sacred place. Here Ossetians prayed, had conversations, made important decisions. And that’s why, do not forget to behave at the table the same way one should behave around a sacred place..”.
Before the actual meal, it is important to set the table properly. Usually this process is done based on the number of guests and their tastes, but in addition to this, in Ossetia, it is regulated by other traditions and norms.
Salt is put on the table first. Then, if a certain animal was killed for the meal (such as cow, steer, sheep), a wide plate is placed on the table (by the elder, master of the table) with the carefully cleaned and boiled head (without the bottom jaw and the tongue) and the neck section of the animal. If the meal is for a happy celebration, the neck of the animal has to be on the plate on left from the head. For funeral repast-on the right side. The reasons for this will be explained in the next paragraphs.
Next, starting at the place where the elder (the most important person) sits, three traditional pies and drinks are put on the table as well as plates of boiled meat. The right shoulder area of the animal (Bazig) three fried right ribs as one piece and a skewer with shashlik (Shish-kebab) from liver, lungs and heart of the animal, wrapped in a special cover of fat (akhsanbal) are put on top of the three pies. In many regions of Ossetia, people also put a right shoulder blade on top of the animal’s head.
If the supposed number of guests is greater than 5, there are a few more plates with three pies on each, that are placed on the table. If there are only 5-6 guests, then only one set of dishes and an odd number of drinks are put on the table.
When the table is ready, someone tells the main organizer of the event (“uinaffaganag”) or the head of the family about it. In turn, this person invites guests to the table, starting with the elder, or the master of the table (“findji histar” or “badti histar”). However, this place does not have to be occupied by the oldest person. It is important that this person is one of the oldest and is also wise, well-spoken and respectable.
If the guests are coming to the house and that is the reason for the meal, the head of the house or one of his relatives takes the place of the “elder”. In case of weddings, big celebrations (“Kuivd”), the elder is chosen by the head of the house and in Ossetian culture, it is a very important duty full of responsibilities. Not everyone can handle it. The order at the table, of Ossetian norms and traditions, as well as good time and the mood of the guests depends on the elder. This person also has to be quite “tolerant” with alcohol.
The elder (“histar”) has to sit at the front of the table, facing east. If the meal is taking place indoors, where it is difficult to place a table from east to west, the elder should then sit on the end that is the farthest from the entrance. After the elder, everyone else takes their seats in an approximate order from oldest to youngest.
In earlier times (and even today at official celebrations: weddings, religious holidays), women did not sit at the table with men. There was a separate table set up for them, where there was also an appropriate etiquette to follow. In our time, meals for young people are usually mixed, but there are always men sitting in the place for the elders.
After everyone has taken their seats, one of the people sitting further, moves the three pies in such a way, so that it can be easily seen that there are exactly three pies. It is important that the top pie is moved to the left from the elder. Then, with the permission of the elder, one of the young servers of the table has to fill the glasses of the three elders, starting with the first one. For Ossetian holidays and for the first prayer to God and for the blessing of the three ritual pies, they often pour Ossetian beer for the elder in a special wooden and beautifully carved vessel (see the photo). The use of araka or vodka in this case is considered as deviation from the tradition.
The elder stands up with beer in the right hand and the shoulder part of the killed animal (“bazhig”)-in the left. After him, everyone stands up. The second elder (the one that is on the right from the first one) has a glass in his right hand and three ribs of the animal in the left hand. The third elder(who is on the left from the first one) has a glass in the right hand and a skewer with fizonag in the left hand. The meal is officially starting.
The elder loudly says the prayer to God and all saints worshipped by Ossetians, and blesses the three pies (Arta Kardzini barstkuivd uat!) Each phrase said by the elder is accompanied by the exclamation “Amen Huitsau!(Amen)” from the guests until the end of the prayer. Next, one of the younger guests has to symbolically bite (“atsahodin”) from the end of the top pie and take the vessel with beer and “bazig”. In many villages of Ossetia, it is important to first drink a bit of beer and then take a bite from the pie. Since the shoulder joint of the animal “bazig” symbolizes power and strength, it is also symbolic to pass “bazig” to the younger guests.
Then it is the second elder’s turn to bring his prayer to God. He cannot be more verbose than the first elder. His prayer, as well as any other following toasts of the elder, also follows by “Amen Huitsau!” from people at the table. At the end, the glass and three ribs are also passed to a younger guest. The third elder also pronounces the prayer to God and passes his glass and skewer with shashlik to another young person.
Those, who received “kuvagkagta” (the glasses of elders), thank them in a few words, praise God and drink from the glasses. After this, they have to ask the servant (Uirdiglauuag) to fill the glasses up again and they give them back to the three elders, respectively.
The younger people take “bazig” apart with a knife, separating the bone from the meat. If the killed animal is ram, the bone gets passed around until one of the young ones can break it with bare hands without any instruments. When, on a rare occcasion, none is strong enough to break it, the older generation gently and friendly makes fun of the younger ones. However, the person who breaks “bazig” gets a glass from the elders, with wishes him to keep gaining strength and always be first in everything to help the family and the whole Ossetia. But all this takes place much later, after the eldest “histar” pronounces first few toasts.
After the elder blesses the three traditional pies, the server or one of the young people moves the pies to the centre of the table and cuts them through the centre into eight pieces. While doing this, he cannot turn around the plate with pies. The piece of the top pie, where the young one has biten, now belongs to him.
When elders get their glasses filled again, “histar” pronounces a toast for One Sole God (“Iunag Kaddzhin Stir Hutsau), clinks glasses with the second, then third elder and then drinks it.
Later, all other participants of the meal (from oldest to youngest) clink glasses with two next ones, drink and sit down. It is not usual in Ossetia to drink quietly. Everyone has to summarize the meaning of the toast in a few words to the next two people (one across and one next to him), clink glasses with both of them and drink. Usually there are only three or rarely, five, people that hold glasses in their hands. Only at funerals, do people drink in even numbers. Only after the first glass it is allowed to start the meal. Before that, it is not allowed to drink or to eat. Even the child does not touch any food until the elder pronounces the prayer to God and blesses the three pies.
When an elder pronounces a toast, it is important to stop eating, as well as stop the conversation and listen to the elder with attention. During all times, Ossetians were very modest during dinners and other meals. There was a saying: “Come full to the feast, be hungry when you leave it”. It emphasizes the fact the gluttony was very shameful and even if you are extremely hungry(and who ate enough food in old times?), it was necessary to eat slowly without showing your appetite. This was the same at home and when you were a guest.
In Ossetia, it is not allowed to cut off anything from the toast of the elder, but it is allowed to add certain things, as long as they are matching the meaning of the toast. When the toast reaches the last person at the table, that person stands up and loudly states: “Dear Elders! Your toast has reached us”. This lets the elder know when he can go on to the next toast.
The second toast at the Ossetian traditional table is always about the protector of men, travellers and warrios Uastirdji. With the arrival of Christianity in Ossetia, this image has become similar to the image of St. George. Uastirdji is the most respectable of all Ossetian saints. The toast for him is pronounced and drunk standing up. People ask Uastirdji to keep Ossetia full of real men who would have luck and loyal friends, to help Ossetia live in piece and prosperity, without any troubles and to give the younger generation strength, courage and fortitude for protection of the homeland. This and all later toasts, pronounced by the elder, get passed on through the whole table, just like the first toast.
The third toast is pronounced for the reason of this celebratory meal (for the saint, for whom the celebration takes place, for the happy marriage of young couple, for a good return from the military service, for the new-boorn son, etc.). This toast is also pronounced while standing (out of respect to the family, to the elders and the meaning of the occasion). During any celebrations, if the toast is made while standing, it is necessary to drink while standing as well. However, at funeral occasions, even if the person made a toast standing up, then he has to sit down and drink.
After the third toast, the first elder can let the second elder talk, out of democratic principles and respect to the participants. In many cases it is usually the representative of the family hosting the event that occupies this spot and that it why in his toast, he often talks about the guests at the celebration, thanks them for the honour of their presence. From the name of the host or elders, he can give all the guests special glasses or goblets. This goblet in Ossetia is a sign of special respect and acknowledgement. To refuse this offer, means to really offend the giver. To say that you are full and no longer want to drink is a sign of bad manners. However, this does not mean that you have to drink a whole glass of vodka.
Firstly, good hosts are not trying to get guests drunk, and are trying to make it easier for them. Secondly, with the offering of these special glasses, the importance is in the continuation of this beautiful tradition and the words of respect and gratitude and not the degrees of alcohol and the amount of the drink. He, who does not understand that, is severely offending Aghdau-a set of rules of Ossetian life. It is alright to drink some with less alcohol or to ask to drink in smaller amounts. If the person cannot drink due to really good reasons or does not drink at all, it is good enough to make one symbolic sip, appologize and say that he does not drink or he will be driving (if it is in fact true).
All, who received these special glasses, pronounce the words of gratitude for the honour, wish hosts happiness, luck and prosperity and also more opportunities to offer such glasses at their celebrations (meaning to have more occasions for celebrations). People drink in the same order-three people at a time until it reaches the last person at the table.
The second elder who has offered the glasses is waiting while standing until the youngest guest finishes drinking. Only after that, he repeats his toast in a shorter form and lets the first elder talk because he is not allowed to drink before him. The elder stands up and thanks him for the nice and beautiful toast. He also thanks the guests of the celebration and drinks it with the best wishes. Then the toast gets passed on the same way down the table except for this time, guests drink for the health of the hosts and all the participants.
When men and women did not sit at the same table, there was only one standard set of rules. With time, younger people created their own, more democratic and free standard set. It is usually divided into two parts: mandatory and a freer one. The first 3-5 toasts and 2-3 toasts that conclude the ceremony make up the mandatory part. Between those toasts, people usually pronounce improvised toasts, depending on public speaking abilities and opinions of those, sitting at the top of the table.
If the ceremony consists of middle-aged people, the organization of the meal is almost the same as it was hundred years ago. After the first 3-4 toasts, the elder usually pronounces prayer for:
“Binati hitsau”(Protector of the house), so that he protects the house of hosts and houses of all guests from any kind of trouble.
“Hori Uatsilla”, “Fosi Falvara”(Protector of harvest Uatsilla and Protector of domestic animals Falvara), “Madi Mayram”(more often at women’s table) so that women would be healthy and happy and would help their kids grow up the same way.
In different parts of Ossetia, people will not forget to mention Hetadji Uastirdji, Tutir, Rekomi Dzuar, Nihasi Uastirdji, Tarandjelos, Sari Dzuar, Alardi, Dzivgisi Dzuar, Mikalgabirta and many other saints. In old times, holidays and celebrations lasted a long time, often a few days, and many toasts were said at the table. However, the celebration has never become a drunken party, because a drunk person could put permanent shame on himself. Shame was looked at, as something being worse than death.
The head of the celebration can say a toast for the elders, wishing health and long life to those who are alive and eternal memory to those who are not. Other toasts are said for health and well-being of all participants, for health and long life of all neighbours (because without their help, Ossetian life would be hard to imagine), for prosperity of members of the family, for peace in the world, for unity, well-being and prosperity of Ossetia, for continuation of traditions of ancestors. Depending on the reason of the celebration, the elder may mention those who gave their life to save their homeland from enemies, all children who died in Sindzikau flooding, victims of Beslan’s tragedy of 2004, as well as those who died under the glacier in Karmadon. In the villages of the Digor region, a toast in memory of Zadaleski Nana-a saviour of children during the Timur’s invasion in XIV century is often made.
All this can happen in the “free program” of the celebration and with the permission of the elder.
There can be a large number of toasts at the table, depending on the region of Ossetia where the celebration is taking place. However, there must be some mandatory elements that can never be missed.
Somewhere in the middle of the celebration, the elder of the guests (especially if that happens at the wedding party, or family celebrations) asks the master of the table to allow guests to thank the women (usually neighbours), cooking food in the kitchen (afsinta) since they are the ones that made this event possible. After getting the permission, guests give three full glasses on the plate and food (usually a piece of boiled meat) to delegated three people. When this custom is not done during the celebratory meal, it is normally done after it.
After coming to the kitchen, where “afsinta” are baking pies and other dishes for the meal, one of the people sent from the guests, pronounces a small speech for them, thanking for delicious food and wishing them to always exhibit their cooking skills at the celebrations and weddings.
After that, three young people give their glasses to the three older women. In return for this honour, they also thank the guests and wish them to keep to the norms of high morals and honour, following beautiful traditions of their nation. Women rarely drink from their glasses. They usually return them to the guests with the words “Nuazen Diuuerdem u”, meaning “honour and respect must be mutual”. If the glasses are full of Ossetian beer or light wine, women can drink it. In this case, before returning the glasses, they have to be filled up again.
When the glasses are returned, young people thank the “afsinta” one by one and drink. They usually put a paper money bill (of a relatively high value) and give the glasses to them, asking to buy something sweet from their name.
After returning to the table with empty glasses, the three people tell elders about the completion of their mission, pass on the words of gratitude said by “afsinta” and get a permission to take their seats again at the table.
During the time the three guests were in the kitchen, the celebration does not stop. Toasts are made, song are sung, stories are told. At a certain moment, the elder asks the person next to him to cut the right ear from the head of the animal. That person cuts off the ear completely, then lightly cuts it two more times, so that the ear could be divided into three parts, staying as a whole at the same time.
The elder takes this ear in his left hand, glass-in his right and standing, gives the younger generation, his words of wisdom (this can be said as a toast to younger generation). Then he gives them the glasses and the ear.
This tradition symbolizes the passing on of the life experience and wisdom from older to younger generations and the necessity of listening to the opinions of elders. People often wish young people to “make mistakes, only following the advices of their elders”, assuming that in this case, the number of the mistakes will be minimal. This tradition is missing at the table during funeral rites.
So, a young guest takes the glass and divides the ear into three parts. Usually there are two more young people that join in and after words of gratitude, drink from their glasses and finish off the rest of the ear. Then they fill up the glasses and return them. The elder, pronounces a toast to the younger generation. He is asking God and Uastirdji to protect the youth from unhappiness and troubles, disloyal friends, wrong paths and betrayal. He wishes the young people to be strong spiritually and physically, to be brave and proudly carry the name of an Ossetian, regardless where they are. He also reminds the young guests that for their ancestors, death was always more preferable than shame.
After the elder finishes his glass, other guests join in and finish theirs, three people at a time. If the elder drank while standing, others need to be respectful and also get up and drink.
Close to the end of the meal and the celebration, the young ones ask the elders for permission to speak. For this, they have to come to the elders with three full glasses on a plate with symbollic food (usually-pieces of boiled meat). One of them pronounces the words of gratitude for care and attention to the young generation, wishes the elders to be able to sit at the head of the table and pass on their wisdom for years to come. After receiving the glasses, the elders thank them for attention and for following the traditions and drink from their glasses. After the three elders drink, the glasses get filled up again and returned to the three young people that offered them. They quickly thank the elders one more time and drink as well. After this, they can return back to their seats.
Then comes the time to finish the celebratory meal. The head of the table pronounces the toast for the saints Mikalgabirta for bread-salt, for “berkad”(abundance) in this house and the houses of all participants. He wishes everyone to have enough of everything, for their family members, for guests and even for their enemies.
After this toast has reached the end of the table, the elder makes a toast for Kasari Uastirdji (Protector of the Threshold). He wishes (to this house as well as everyone else’s at the celebration) for misfortune to never step in over their thresholds and for the houses be always full of guests*, bringing happiness and joy. This toast get passed on all the way until the end of the table, just like all the other ones. Lately, to shorten the final part of the celebratory meal (but only with the permission of elders), young people started to add this toast to the toast for abundance. This means that when it is their turn to drink for abundance, they join these two toasts together.
After this, everyone stands up and master of the table pronounces the toast for Fandagsar Uastirdji, asking for his protection and wishes everyone who came from far away, to return home safely and see their family in good health. After this, nobody will sit down at the table again. The celebratory meal is over.
All guests thank the hosts for the reception, wish them to host as many celebrations in their house as possible and return to their homes.
* According to the Ossetian traditions, any guest who enters their hous is conidered to be "sent by God". Therefore the foreigners visiting Ossetia are usually so surprised by the Ossetian hospitality. Ossetians usually say: "Even if your enemy entered your hous without any bad intentions, you should treat him as a honorable guest".
Few strict rules that exist at Ossetian celebratory meal.
• Everything that is considered improper for any other civilised meal, is not appropriate at the Ossetian table as well. In addition to that, for an Ossetian...
• Table is a sacred place. It is not allowed to use obscene language of any kind or to talk bad about someone. It is also not appropriate to mention dogs, donkeys, reptiles or any other “dirty” animals.
• A grandfather and a grandson, father and son, uncle and nephew, father-in-law and son-in-law, brothers (if they have a significant age difference) do not sit together at one table. By breaking this rule, people that are younger(by age or position in life) are showing disrespect to the older generation.
• If the guests have come without any specific reason for celebration, the head of the family (the oldest man) sits at the place of the elder, inspite of his or guests’ ages. If there is a large celebration, a party or a wedding, the host does not sit at the table at all. He observes and makes sure that all the guests feel welcome by passing his comments and requests to the person in charge of the celebration.
• It is not nice to get drunk. All guests need to know their limits and using the appropriate traditions and norms, they need to stop on time. Those, who get drunk, “to support the Ossetian traditions”, are in reality, neglecting them by breaking this rule. A person who does not drink in Ossetia has never been criticized, but it has always been a great shame to be an alcohol addicted.
• It is also not appropriate to come to the celebration already drunk. The person himself is usually having difficulties controlling himself and those responsible for the meal, have to show enough will, to keep people like that off the table. They can ruin the whole party and destroy a good mood of the guests.
• Smoking at the table- sign of disrespect to everyone around. If it is impossible to wait until the end, it is allowed (after three toasts) to ask the elders for permission and go out for a smoke.
• Standing up and leaving the table also shows disrespect to the elders and the rest of people at the table. It is also not allowed to leave without letting the elders know.
• If someone was late for the beginning of the meal, he has to sit at the end of the table, in spite of his age. If the guest came from far away, he goes up to the elders, greets them and wishes everyone to continue meeting at these kind of celebrations. The elders give him “welcoming” glass. After a short wish to the participants to always meet guests bringing happiness, the guest drinks from the glass and sits at the place, already prepared for him.
• It is not permissible to come to the ossetian meal in anappropriate attire (shorts, sportswear, etc.) It is also not allowed to do something that goes against general norms of behaviour for an ossetian in public (for ex. To yell at someone, or swear at them, to argue with the elders, or, sitting at the table of men, to let kids sit beside or on the knees)
• It is not allowed to make your own toasts or to give out special glasses without the elders knowing or in between their toasts. It is also not allowed to drink between the toasts (the only exception is if the person wants to drink some water or juice). This breaks the basis of ossetian traditions, letting alcoholics an opportunity to do as they please at the table. Attempts to drink more than needed or attempts to make someone do that, should be stopped right away.
• If the elders stand up to make another toast, everyone needs to stand up as well. Only one young person keeps sitting (as a symbol of “guarding” the table). As soon as the elder drinks from hiss glass and sits down, that young person has to stand up right away. This rule is followed during the meal. When the elder blesses The Three Pies before the beginning of the meal, all participants have to stand up.
• Based on ossetian traditions, it is important to hold the glass or to pass it on always in the right hand. The glass should be filled up also from the left to the right hand.
• It is not allowed to make the toast or to drink before the person who sits higher at the table has done it. When he makes a toast, it is important to listen attentively to understand the meaning.
• It is not permissible to point things out or suggest something to the elders. Noone should be manipulated to break ossetian traditions, especially when one person is trying to pressure another one to drink more than necessary.
• The order of the correct seating at the table is also important. The head of the table must sit at the “face” of the table. Everyone younger sit in zigzag shape across the table, starting at the second elder and continuing all the way until the end of the table. This means, the person next to the one making the toast, sits across, and another one-beside him. These people are next when the toast gets passed on. Before drinking, the person has to clink glasses with the other two in that same order. There can only be an odd number of people holding the glass and clinking glasses at one given moment. Even number of people do that only at funeral repast.
• When one of the elders is making a toast, the young ones support the toast by a loud exclamation “Amen Huitsau!” or “Amen uad!”
However, this is never allowed at the funeral repast.
• If someone sitting at the table sees that the elder is saying some kind of thankful words to him, he has to stand up and listen to the elder while standing. He can also say his “Stir buznig” (Thank you very much) or “Huitsau zagad ne’ppaten dar”(May God help us all).
• For ossetian folk celebrations(Djeorguiba, Hetadji Bon, Rekom, Uatsilla and others), it is improper to put chicken and fish on the table. During these celebrations, ossetians do not eat products from this meat. All dishes with meat have to be prepared from beef or mutton.
• During official holidays, pork or dishes prepared from it should not be on the table. It is allowed at picnics, birthdays and other unofficial events. But even here, pork products are put on the table only after the elder says a prayer to God and blesses the three pies or after making the first three toasts.
• The meal (if due to a good reason) is always accompanied by songs, jokes. Most of the time, it is the responsibility of the young ones. However, they should not start a song before the elder does it first. In some cases, the elders refuse their first right, and ask the young ones to sing or play something.
When there is amusement going on outside or inside the house, young guests at the table may ask the elder for a permission to visit “Hast” (the place of the amusement, dancing) after 3-5 toasts. The wise elder always gives his permission, after discussing it with the second and third elder.
Responsibilities of the server of the meal
(Uirdiglauuag or uirdigstag)
There are usually a lot of people involved in official ossetian celebrations. Without the help of a particular group of young people, from neighbours and relatives (especially-sons-in law of the family) it is virtually impossible to organize the event. They divide the table between each other and each person serves their own section. They usually stand along the table on the right side with the vessels of araka in the left hand. That is probably why they are called “uirdiglauuag”(literally-“standing”). Depending on the movement of the toast from the elder down the table, the server takes and replenishes the glasses of every person sitting in his section in the strict order of the toast. There must be 3 or5 glasses filled at once, the even number of the glasses is not allowed. The glass gets passed on only in the right hand. From time to time, the server goes to “kabits” (a storage place for all the food and drinks for the celebration) and asks “kabitsi hitsau” (the responsible) to fill up the “carafe”.
The person serving the table also makes sure there is plenty of everything at the table. He is responsible for bringing more dishes or certain food product if there is not enough. They also bring “livza” (ossetian version of ragu), “fiddjinta” (pies with meat) and “bas”(broth, usually at the request of people at the table). Everything is served hot during the meal.
“Uirdiglayyag” used to be an inseparable part of any meal. Most of the time, men drank only one drink-araka (ossetian drink, close to whisky). Beer is usually put on the table as well. Nowadays, there are many drinks at the table and “uirdiglayyag” with araka is not longer needed the same way. After 3-5 toasts, the elders let him go because everyone at the table is free to choose any drink from the table.
However, it is not proper to pour a drink for oneself. Anyone who sits beside you, but not lower, can do that for the person. Normally, there are 2-3 young people who are not participating in the meal but are watching the table, the course of the meal and somewhat taking on the responsibilities of “uirdiglauuag”.
Some of the characteristics of the meal for the funeral repast.
There is a special table that is set up for the funeral repast for a person who passed away. It is quite different from the celebratory meal. The family of the person, as well as relatives and close ones, prepare different food and drinks. There are usually pies, cakes (in even numbers), different fruits, meat, possibly fish, chicken, candy and other sweets. Drinks are also put on the table in even numbers (2 bottles of water, 2 bottles of wine, etc.) On this day, a ram or a steer is killed. The head and the neck area are put on the table (neck on the right from the head). On this table, there must be salt, a knife and a glass with clean water.
Everything that was prepared for the funeral repast must be put on a separate table. Two or four men go up to that table to consecrate it to the person who died (nihalar kanin). This is usually made by the elder with the glass of araka in the right hand. After this procedure is finished, one of the younger people symbolically puts a small amount of salt on everything on the table and then touches everything with the blade of the knife. One of the women (usually a widow) pours the water from the glass outside, but not on the path that is used by the family members. This is the end of the procedure “halar kanin” and the contents of the table are put on the main table. Men and women sit at different tables.
The elder of the table starts with a prayer to the Almighty and the toast to the Only Sole God. Since in Ossetia it is not done with the even number of pies, on the table by the elders, there must be only 3 pies. After the elder finishes his prayer and drinks, one pie gets passed down the table, leaving only two pies by the elders.
The second toast is made by the elder of the table for the peace of the soul of the deceased. Everyone has to stand up and say “ruhsag u” and to let fall a drop from their glasses onto the table, on the plate or (as it was done before) on the piece of pie or bread. It is important to keep it short and not to be loud, but to clearly state the words to the next person at the table. When finished, it is needed to sit down and drink while sitting.
Nobody drinks standing up at funeral repast. It is also not allowed to clink glasses or to say “Amen!” or “Amen Huitsau!” to the elders, because all these are the characteristics of the celebratory meals. On this occasion, there must be 2 or 4 people holding glasses at the same time.
The elder pronounces the third toast for the health and well-being of the family and close relatives of the deceased.
Fourth toast-for the peace in heaven (ruhsag) made for those, who left this world before the deceased and those, who always wished peace in heaven at these tables.
Next toast may be said for the health and well-being of those, who have helped the family, by taking on the hard duties, such as cooking and the funeral, as well as for those who left everything and came to express their sympathy and condolences.
During this toast, the host of the house (or the oldest representative of the family) may thank everyone separately and give out special “thankful” glasses. If he is not sitting at the table, he usually asks one or three people (together-an even number) from the neighbours to come with him to the table. They take “hai” (usually a medium-sized piece of meat) and go up to the elders of the table. One of them explains why they came, the desire of the host of the house to thank people at the table. After that, they ask the guests to drink from the “thankful” glasses. No other glasses are being given out at the funeral repast.
The last toast is made by the elder for Mikalgabirta and bread-salt in this house. He asks these saints for abundance for this house and for hosts to only have guests for celebrations and joyous occasions.
The funeral repast meal ends with this toast and if someone wants to drink more after this, his attempts should be immediately stopped.
Right after young ones drink for Mikalgabirta, everyone stands up, leaves the table and stand (usually outside of the house) on two sides. The hosts, their relatives and neighbours stand on the side of the house. All the guests are on the other side. One of the older guests makes a step forward. In a few sentences he thanks the everyone for following the ossetian traditions for the remembrance of the deceased and wishes that their grief will be the last one for many years and that the funeral repast will be replaced with more joyful occasions and celebrations.
In response to this, one of the older representatives of the family also thanks guests for sharing the pain of the loss and wishes them to return home safely and find their family happy and healthy.
After this, everyone goes home.
Written by RUSLAN KUCHITY
upon requests from the young visitors of the website www.ossetians.com
Translated by Anastassia Grankina
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