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Here's a toast to special occasions
December 6, 2012 - Anita Hanaburgh
We hadn’t seen each other for a month. My friend Cindy and I sat in the Olde Bryan Inn in Saratoga Springs. We try to meet every week, but time had gotten away from us, so we had some catching up to do.
“Here’s to us,” she said, as she clinked her Sauvignon Blanc against my seltzer and orange juice. (I was driving.) The waiting waiter smiled and walked over.
“I never interrupt a toast,” he explained. “Are we celebrating?”
“No, just glad be together.”
He then explained that people toast for almost any reason or occasion, but birthdays and business deals are the most common. He told us that the night before he had served a large party that had toasted continually throughout the night. After toasting the food, each other, the dining room, the ride over, they finally toasted the waiter himself!
Throughout history, toasting has been part of special occasions in almost every country in the world. As such an integral part of so many celebrations, where did this tradition come from, and what does it mean?
Actually, toast-making dates back as far back as ancient Greek and Roman times, when food was offered “up” to the gods before the meal began. The clinking of glasses or bowls was done to ward off evil spirits and thus bring good fortune.
The word “toast” comes from the practice of floating a piece of burnt bread on top of the wine. Years ago, when wine wasn’t as good as it is today, the “toast” would take away some of the acidity or sharpness of the wine. During celebrations, a single bowl would be passed and shared by all the people. The last person to drink from the bowl would eat the saturated toast, thus completing the round of good cheer. In Germany, that single bowl was called the Wassail, from wass hael, meaning “be hale.”
A proper toast today requires that the person making the toast stands. The host usually gives the first toast. The “toastee” does not stand, sip or raise his or her glass but acknowledges the honor with a nod or a “thank you.” He or she may respond with a toast of his or her own. The others raise their glasses in agreement, then take a sip. They do not stand up unless asked to do so by the toaster. There may or may not be a verbal response like “here, here” or a repeat of the short toast. Some traditions require that the glass be emptied.
Traditions around toasting are as many and as varied as people making toasts. One such tradition requires that one make eye contact with the “toaster” before drinking, or the toast is not sealed. Another states that toasting with water brings bad luck.
In England, proper toasting requires that each person voices his or her own salute before drinking. Not toasting is considered a demonstration against the person or idea being toasting. In some cultures, it is considered extremely rude to miss a toast because of talking or not paying attention. But today in the United States, just about anything goes.
Proposing a toast and toasting are two different things. A toast is usually short and to the point: “To us,” “to life,” “To John and Betsy,” “To success.”
“Proposing a toast” as opposed to a toast itself, is similar to the remarks like we hear from the best man at a wedding. It is important that a toast is short and sincere rather than long and eloquent. The person making the toast must remember that he or she is not the center of attention. A toastmaster is the person who controls who goes next and limits the time when there is a lot of toastmaking. The last wedding I attended badly needed a toastmaster!
There are also many favorite toasts that are used over and over. They can be famous quotes or made up rhymes.
“Be at war with your voices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every New Year find you a better man” is attributed to Benjamin Franklin.
“Let us be merry and make good cheer, for Christmas comes but once a year” comes from an old Christmas Card. Families can have their favorites, too. My Dad’s favorite usually gets a laugh: “Here’s to all us good people. There are so few of us left!”
Most countries have a special toast. I remember the Christmas the family welcomed our soon-to-be son-in-law. Because Bruno was Brazilian, we were all anxious to share the Brazilian toast, “Saude, Saude.”
He then asked, “What is the American toast?” American toast? Oh, busboy. We couldn’t think of one. “Cheers” is English. “Chin cin” is French. “Bottoms up” also is English. “Gesundheit” and “prost” are German and “Kanpai” is Japanese. Okay, so what is the American toast? If you know one, please let me know or maybe you should just make one up.
Here’s to my readers, I hope there’s a few. I wish the best of holidays to you. Cheers.
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