“Tchin tchin”, “Santé”, “Cheers”, “Chinchín!, “Salud!” or “Na zdrowie”. We provide for our health and to underline the moment. Nobody knows who the first to toast was, but it has very old roots. I invite you raise your glass with me.
Every year come some new scientific and archaeological discoveries. Today we know that the origins of the toast go back to ancient Georgia, where until today, its inhabitants celebrate a long, fun and exciting ritual. However, let’s not forget about the Greeks and Romans. Without a doubt, they are the great masters of the toast.
The ritual of raising the cup began in ancient Greece. As we can see in literature, the practice of poisoning a glass of wine to eliminate enemies was a common activity. When the king wanted to assure his guests that their wine was safe, they shared the same glass. The host, of course, was the first to taste the wine.
The myth says that the ritual of hitting the cups started for the same reasons. When doing it with enthusiasm, without much glamour, some of the liquid will splash the glasses of both companions. Sharing wine became a symbol of trust and friendship. Evidence of this can be found in “The Odyssey,” when Ulysses drinks to Achilles’ health.
From the linguistic point of view, the English word “toast” has a double and even triple meaning. It comes from the Latin concept “toasted”, but it commonly means “toast” or “bread toast”. It is not a coincidence. The Romans practiced the ritual of dipping a toast of burnt bread in their wine glass. It mitigates the taste and texture of a bad wine. Now science explains: carbon actually reduces the acidity of unbalanced wines.
In addition, the spirit of toasting “to someone’s health” is also due to the Romans. They gave it such importance that at one point the Senate passed a decree stating that everyone should drink to the health of Emperor Augustus at every meal. Edward Gibbon’s book “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, even describes a party in which Attila the Hun gives himself the pleasure of offering at least three toasts for each dish.
Although the toast has its roots in Western culture, in the ancient Greek civilization, certain cultures have their own traditions, always connected with the concepts of celebration and honor. The physical and verbal ritual of the toast can be elaborate and formal, but it is enough to raise the cup and deliver a message of good will towards the person or thing indicated.
From the early eighteenth century comes the term “Prosit” / “Prost”, used among college students, when they threw the cup away after drinking its content. “Prosit” is a Latin word that was abbreviated by the Germans. The very French “Santé” or the Polish “Na zdrowie” also mean “Health”. Wine and some other alcoholic beverages are frequently associated not only with a festive character, but with a healthy lifestyle and the long-life desires.
Today we are not afraid to drink a poisoned wine. We do not have the need to break our crystal glasses, unless we celebrate a Jewish wedding. But the toast itself is a sympathetic ritual and some have dedicated themselves to perfecting it. This character is called “toastmaster”. In France and Italy, where I have visited many wineries, the toasts are practically endless, even the guests often have to take the floor to thank the hosts. Luckily, they are generally at the time of dessert and digestives, when our senses are satisfied.
In general, toasts are offered at times of celebration or commemoration, including certain holidays, such as New Year’s Eve. Other occasions include retirement celebrations, anniversaries, housewarming parties or births. The protocol to provide at weddings is always very elaborate. The father of the bride, in his role as host, regularly offers the first toast, thanking the guests for attending, offering tasteful memories of the bride’s childhood and wishing the newlyweds a happy life together. The witness or best man of the groom also proposes a toast. There are many comedies that portray some disastrous toasts, where the couple just wants to disappear as quickly as possible and start their honeymoon.
Not to mention the toasts in work environments or bachelor parties. It is often more convenient to skip the ritual than to experience embarrassing situations. Toasting has its etiquette. We should never do it with an empty glass. Also, do not lower the cup before the toast is completed. Don’t toast without drinking at least a sip. That is very discourteous. The same those guests who believe themselves the “centerpieces”, which cannot be endured and provided before the hosts. And finally, do not forget to stand up so that everyone can hear us loud and clear.
I love this millenary tradition, but the toasts have to be brief, witty or exciting and, always, but always, with a good wine in the glass.