By Vika Abramova
Russian Language Intern
Why do Russians chant “gorko” (bitter) at a wedding reception?
At the beginning of December 2014 my brother Anton got married and had a wedding reception back in my home city of Perm, Russia. I decided to arrange a skype session between my Intermediate Russian students, the newlyweds and the guests at the wedding reception involving the students in real-life cultural experience.
In Russia, weddings tend to be done on a grand scale. The reception of a Russian wedding typically takes place in a restaurant or the home of the bride or groom’s family and tend to last more than one day with the average being about two days. A Russian wedding is a great celebration with plenty of food, drinks, toasting, and dancing. A toastmaster, or “tamada”, is hired for the reception to conduct toasts, supervise games, and entertain the guests.
Both the newlyweds and the students were excited to meet via video. The couple was pleased to receive congratulations across thousands of miles while the students were happy to practice their Russian speaking skills congratulating my brother, his wife and all the guests with this special occasion. The Skype to the newlyweds was a lot of fun. The Russian students raised cups with juice to toast the newlyweds and proposed long toasts according to Russian tradition. The students also learned about some of the traditions at Russian weddings.
As the students finished making toasts one of the guests at the reception suddenly yelled out the word “Gor’ko” (bitter) to the newlyweds and the couple started to kiss each other. I asked the puzzled students to support the guests with chanting the same word, over and over again, and explained the tradition afterwards. No Russian wedding can go without people yelling “Gor’ko” to the bride and groom. This is not a sign of displeasure at the food: it is a signal, after which bride and groom must stand up and kiss each other. The Bitter Kiss is a Russian wedding tradition. For the first toast held, the guests will drink from their glasses and then they will start chanting “Gor’ko” (meaning that the drink is bitter) and the couple then have to kiss to make the drink “sweet.”
Guests usually shout “Gor’ko” after every toast or just when they want the couple to kiss. So, every five or 10 minutes one of the guests will begin chanting: “Gor’ko! Gor’ko! Gor’ko!” The rest of the guests will join in. Once they made the newlyweds kiss, everybody begins counting very slowly to see how long the kiss will last. It is generally considered that the more the guests yell “Gor’ko”, the happier the couple’s life will be
Congratulations to Anton and Lena! Wishing that your marriage will be as happy and beautiful as your wedding.