When you raise your glass at midnight this New Year’s Eve to toast the success of 2013, as well as the prosperous year to come, it may be fun to think about a few toasting customs. Have you ever wondered why we give toasts at weddings, New Year’s parties and other events? How did this become an anticipated ritual?
While it’s difficult to determine the exact moment in time when toasting to health, prosperity, blessings and luck became a tradition, below are a few key points in time that illustrate the evolution of the toast:
- Homer’s Odyssey, written near the end of the 8th century B.C., tells of Ulysses drinking to the health of Achilles.
- In ancient Rome, drinking to the health of others became so common that the Roman Senate required all diners to drink to Augustus at each meal.
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a book of history written by Edward Gibbon in 1776, tells of Attila the Hun leading multiple toasts for each course during a multi-course meal.
- Over time, the act of toasting became partnered with other customs–one of which is the popular action of “clinking.” Clinking is believed to have begun in the Christian era, as the original idea was to scare off the devil with the “bell-like” noise. A separate legend says that clinking helps to engage all five senses, which is said to make drinking more pleasurable.
- The first recorded toast was in England in A.D. 450. British King Vortigern hosted a feast for his Saxon allies. At this feast, the daughter of Saxon leader Hengist raised her goblet and said, “Louerd King, waes hael,” which translates to”Lord King, be of health.” “Waes hael” was used while drinking for thousands of years, and was changed to “wassail” over the years. Over time, “wassail” became associated with Christmas and the New Year.
- The actual term “toast” came about in the late 17th Century when it was a tradition to place a piece of bread or crouton in a drink. It is believed that toast in a drink was thought to add flavor. Others believe it was added as a snack for extra nutrition. The term “toast” was recorded in 1709 in The Tatler. From here, toasting became very popular, and different nations had their own customs, many of which involved excessive drinking.
- J. Roach’s book The Royal Toastmaster, published in London in 1791, was focused entirely on toasting. Another early collection of toasts was The Toastmaster’s Guide, written by T. Hughes and published in London in 1806.
- Toasting made its way to the United States during the Revolution. The beginning of this great nation was inspirational for many, which made adopting the toasting custom easy.
- Many toasts by notable American citizens are well remembered, including a great number of toasts by Benjamin Franklin. His most famous toast was delivered at Versailles while serving as American emissary to France.
- When Prohibition went into effect in 1920, toasting customs changed from raising a glass to health and prosperity to toasting about the Volstead Act and Anti-Prohibition activities such as the creation of bathtub gin.
- After the end of Prohibition, the toasting custom prevailed and remains a part of our culture today. This tradition is still so popular in American culture that even Hollywood shows signs of its presence. For example, the February 24, 2011 episode of The Big Bang Theory on CBS touches on the history of toasting and is titled “The Toast Derivation.”
Through the centuries, toasting has ranged from being a custom during the reign of kings to serving as a religious ritual, and now is a common form of celebration and festivity throughout the world. Toasting has lasted through wars, shifts in world power and even the banning of alcohol in 20th century America.
When you raise your glass to 2014 this week, remember to think about the origin of this well-known tradition, and have a bit of fun knowing that your toast is a little piece of history. Cheers to a happy New Year!
All facts on the history of toasting were found on the Toasts book website: http://toastsbook.com/history.shtml.
For toasting etiquette tips, refer to Ten Mannerly Tips to Delivering the Perfect New Year’s Toast. You may also like my New Year’s Cocktail Party board on Pinterest.