Greece is a country with a long and rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years. The Greeks have many unique customs and traditions, including several that involve toasting and well-wishes. When Greeks raise their glasses for a toast, they have a number of interesting phrases they might use depending on the occasion.
Common Greek Toasting Phrases
Here are some of the most popular Greek toasting expressions and what they mean:
One of the most commonly used Greek toasting words is “Yamas.” This is an all-purpose expression that functions similarly to saying “Cheers!” in English. It is used informally in casual settings among friends. The proper response to “Yamas!” is to repeat it back. This simple toast means “To your health!”
Stin iyia mas
“Stin iyia mas” is a more formal version of “Yamas” that directly translates to “To our health.” It is commonly used for celebrations or formal events. Like “Yamas,” the typical response is to repeat the phrase back to the person who offered the original toast.
Eis polla eti
“Eis polla eti” is a Greek phrase that means “To many more!” It is used to wish for continuing success, happiness, and health. This toast is popular at events like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, or retirements to express hope for many more occasions to come.
“Zito” is a powerful Greek word used in toasting that means “to live.” Shouting “Zito!” is a way to express wishes for long life and prosperity. It can also mean “Hurrah!” and is commonly heard at weddings and other lively celebrations. The typical response is to repeat “Zito!” back multiple times.
“Opa” is a spirited Greek toast that expresses excitement and joy. It is an exclamation similar to “Wahoo!” or “Yay!” in English. People will often shout “Opa!” at big parties, dances, Greek festivals, and other energetic events while raising their glasses. It is customary to respond with the same enthusiasm by shouting “Opa!” back.
Toasting Etiquette in Greek Culture
There are some customary rules of etiquette Greeks follow for toasting:
- The host or highest ranking guest usually initiates the first toast.
- Glasses are raised to eye level when toasting.
- Look others in the eye while offering a toast as a sign of sincerity and connection.
- Never toast with an empty glass.
- Repeat back the same phrase said during a toast, or offer your own toast in return.
- One person may give two toasts in a row. Others take turns toasting between courses or throughout an event.
- In large groups, toasting goes counter-clockwise around a table.
Following proper toasting etiquette shows respect for Greek traditions and the sentiment behind offering well-wishes to others.
Toasts for Major Life Events
Beyond casual toasting, Greeks also have traditional phrases they use to celebrate major life milestones:
At Greek weddings, a typical toast is “Na zisete!” This means “May you live!” and expresses the wish for a long, happy marriage. Guests also shout “Opa!” while dancing and breaking plates during the reception.
When babies are born in Greek families, it is customary to toast the parents by saying “Na sas zisei,” meaning “May you have their long life.” There are also toasts to bless and christen the newborn.
For graduations, Greeks offer a toast of “Kales epitichies!” This means “Good success!” and wishes the graduate prosperity in their future career. Friends and family may also toast “Yamas!” to celebrate the scholar’s achievement.
At retirement parties, common Greek toasts include “Eis polla eti!” to wish the retiree many more good years. There are also toasts like “Sto kalo!” that mean “To the good!” This expresses hope for an enjoyable retirement.
Notable Greeks Famous for Toasting
Throughout history, many significant Greeks from philosophers to kings were known for making memorable toasts:
The famous Greek philosopher Socrates was said to have made a wise toast at a large banquet stating, “May the gods grant me health, and may I always bear in mind that of all treasures the highest is wisdom.”
Alexander the Great
Legend claims that the powerful Greek King Alexander the Great made this boastful toast: “To our beloved Macedonia, the new mistress of the Orient world!”
In Homer’s Odyssey, the mythical hero Odysseus offers this toast after slaughtering the suitors that had taken over his palace: “Rejoice my friends, and let us exult in the feast, and make merry . . . for we have conquered destiny!”
The brilliant Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes is said to have toasted his breakthrough discoveries by proclaiming “Eureka!” meaning “I have found it!”
|Notable Toast Quote
|“May the gods grant me health, and may I always bear in mind that of all treasures the highest is wisdom.”
|Alexander the Great
|“To our beloved Macedonia, the new mistress of the Orient world!”
|“Rejoice my friends, and let us exult in the feast, and make merry . . . for we have conquered destiny!”
|“Eureka!” meaning “I have found it!”
Translating Common English Toasts into Greek
Many traditional English toasts can be translated into equivalent Greek phrases:
The all-purpose equivalent is “Yamas!”
“To your health!”
This translates to “Stin iyia sou!”
“Here’s to you!”
Greeks would say “Eis ygeias sou!” meaning “To your health!”
“Here’s to us!”
The translation is “Eis ygeias mas!” for “To our health!”
The Greek version is “Stin filia!”
Greeks would say “Stin oikogeneia!”
This translates as “Stin agapi!”
The equivalent Greek toast is “Stin epitichia!”
“To the bride and groom!”
At Greek weddings they toast “Stous nyfios kai tin nyfi!”
“To long life!”
The translation is “Eis makryoviotita!”
Fun Drinking Customs in Greece
The Greeks have several lively customs associated with drinking and toasting that add an element of fun:
- Plate Smashing: At weddings and celebrations, guests throw and smash plates while dancing and offering toasts like “Opa!” This act represents joy and letting go of negativity.
- Drinking Contests: Groups of friends may engage in lighthearted contests to see who can drink the most shots of ouzo or glasses of wine.
- Drinking Songs: The Greeks have many traditional drinking songs celebrating health, life, and storytelling that everyone will sing together during feasting.
- Rhyming Toasts: At lively events, some Greeks compose playful rhyming toasts on the spot to entertain guests.
- Dancing: Traditional Greek dances like the zeibekiko are done while balancing glasses of wine and making celebratory toasts.
- Cheering: “Opa!” is commonly yelled while drinking or dancing. The room responds with a resounding “Opa!” back.
Drinking is deeply ingrained in Greek social customs, so there is often much boisterous fun had while offering toasts.
Significance of Toasting in Greek Culture
Toasting serves several meaningful symbolic purposes in Greek culture:
- Toasting represents well-wishes for health and the good life. It embodies fundamental hopes Greeks share.
- It fosters a sense of togetherness and community by connecting people over shared goals and values.
- Raising glasses together signifies unity and camaraderie. It bonds friends and family.
- Toasting infuses major life events like births, weddings, graduations etc. with meaningful ritual.
- Lively toasting weaves joy and celebration into social gatherings.
- Following proper etiquette shows mutual respect and courtesy between hosts and guests.
- Exchanging toasts serves as a cultural touchstone that strengthens Greek identity and heritage.
Overall, toasting holds deep cultural meaning for Greeks as a tradition that brings people closer together. The words said over raised glasses express sincere hopes for living the good life among loved ones.
Greek Toasting Through the Ages
Toasting has centuries-old roots in Greece, as evidenced by references found in art, myths, and writing spanning eras:
– Toasting appears in Ancient Greek art from the 8th century BC like vase paintings of symposia where wine was shared.
– Myths contain references to libations – liquid offerings made to honor the gods – as a form of ancient Greek toasting.
– Works by Homer feature characters making ritual libations and drinking toasts.
– Elaborate toasting rituals among nobles are recorded in Byzantine texts.
– Saint John Chrysostom preached about drunkenness from overindulgent toasting.
– Artwork depicts images of crowded banquets with shared goblets used for ceremonial toasting.
– 18th century writings satirize Turkish and Greek elites competing through increasingly lavish toasting displays.
– Literature suggests wine and toasting culture shifted more private and underground during foreign occupation.
– 20th century works showcase public taverna toasting rituals continuing today.
– Popular films depict the communal bonding role of Greek toasting in villages and island culture.
– Travelogues document lively plate smashing and group ouzo toasting still thriving at weddings.
This long prominent role across Greek history reveals how fundamentally ingrained libations and toasting are in the culture.
Regional Differences in Greek Toasting
While all Greeks make toasts, specific customs and practices can vary by region:
– Cretans are known for exceptionally enthusiastic “Opa!” toasting accompanied by high leaps in the air.
– Group dancing in shoulder hold circles takes place while balancing shots of raki liquor.
– They compose rhyming couplets and limericks for fun improvised toasts.
– Peloponnesians focus on wine toasting, with all guests drinking from the same vessel.
– Locals recite ancient poetic excerpts relevant to the occasion while making a toast.
– Elders begin festive toasting, but take turns with younger guests in deference to their wisdom.
– Islanders make ouzo toasts for arriving boats by raising glasses towards the sea.
– Group toasting while feasting on fresh seafood catches is customary.
– On Rhodes they shout “Evohé!” derived from the praise cry “Evohe!” used in ancient Greek plays.
– Corfiots are known for dramatic plate smashing when making celebratory toasts.
– Pre-meal toasts honor patron saints like Saint Spiridon, the patron saint of Corfu.
– Elders gift symbolic coins to newlywed couples as a blessing when toasting at weddings.
These examples showcase the regional diversity within Greek toasting culture. Local influences create distinct flavors.
Key Takeaways on Greek Toasting
Some key points to remember about the role of toasting in Greece:
- Set phrases like “Yamas!” and “Opa!” are used for celebratory toasts.
- Etiquette calls for eye contact and enthusiasm when toasting.
- Major life events feature elaborate, meaningful toasts.
- History shows how toasting has long defined Greek social culture.
- Lively customs add excitement to Greek toasting traditions.
- Toasting ritually bonds Greeks through shared identity and values.
- Regional styles lead to some differences in practices.
Toasting has been an essential part of Greek culture for millennia. The words shouted over raised glasses of ouzo or wine build community and link Greeks to a rich history still thriving today. Whether at a family gathering or island wedding, hearing the enthusiastic cries of “Opa!” ensures a lively celebration infused with the Greek spirit.