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The Last One for the Road: Cтременная

On a precedent post, I told you that when invited by Russian, you might be offered a last drink for the road. Nowadays, we usually have just one last one, but in ancient times, it was done in three steps: “на посошок“just before leaving the house, “стременная” when the rider was already on his horse, and “Закурганная” or “Забугорная” when he was about to leave the village. Let see today the three last expressions.

“Стременная”

The expression “стременная” comes from the noun стремя (stirrup). It comes from a very old custom, which is also related with the beginning of a difficult quest like travelling, hunting or leaving on a military campaign.

It seems that things went that way: our ancestor-warrior jumps on his horse easily, arranges his helmet, his armour and his sword. A groom holds the stirrup for him. Just before to do so, at his last minute of the farewell, a cup is brought to him on a tray by his wife, just next to the stirrup. А после того, как чарка выпита, её воин отдаёт стременному (and after the warrior had drunk from the cup, his wife would give him the stirrup).

Стременными, the name given to those who would hold the stirrup for a prince or a boyar, were обычно отроки из знатных семейств (usually young men from noble families). Over the time, the tradition has expanded and a person was appointed to this job.

The original form of stirrups were just a leather loop that would help riders to mount their horses. Но со временем стремена стали важным элементом боевого убранства коня (but it slowly became an important element of decoration for the warriors’ horses). For ordinary soldiers, the stirrups would be of leather or wrought iron, while the nobility would have some finely carved and beautifully shaped stirrups made of copper or silver. The rider’s life would often depend on the reliability of their stirrup. If one would break, or if the foot could slip off, and it might be the end of the man.

So to drink “стременная” (to the stirrup) was a custom, which, according to our ancestors served as a departing toast, intended to keep the rider away from troubles.

“Закурганная”

To drink “Закурганная” is a Cossack tradition from the steppe.

In the steppe, “курганы” (tumulus or burial mount) were placed on the main road, close to each Cossack villages. On them were settled outposts with fire signals which were lit in case of danger.
За курганами начиналась беспокойная степь (behind the tumulus began the endless steppe), wild and uninhabited, full of dangers. It was a rule to escort distinguished guests and relatives behind these tumulus а дальше уж как судьба с ними обойдётся… (and farther it was already depending on fate…)

This duty to escort a guest was honoured by young, strong, brave men, who needed to prove their bravery and skills with horses and weapons beforehand. Larger was the escort, greater was the honour and respect for the guest.

So finally the escort would stop on the spot where their ancestors had stop before them. Sometimes “закурганная чаша” (the cup to wish good luck after the tumulus) would be offered around to all the participants, but no one was forced to drink, it was a personal decision.

It was a rule to take this last drink without a snack, because they had just finished the meal, да и все мысли были уже о дороге (and all thoughts were already set on the road ahead). The tradition was to drink and wish good luck for the travel, then keep silent for a brief moment and finally starred for a long time at the departing guests as they started their uncertain trip.

You can also hear the expression “Забугорная” instead of “Закурганная“. Забугорный means foreign, abroad. Both expressions have the same sense.

Enroll!