Just for fun.  This is where this week’s ponderings have led me.

Have you ever wondered where the tradition of toasting originated?  Whether it is a casual ‘cheers’ when your first drink is poured or at a wedding, significant birthday occasions and other celebrations – there is always a moment where we acknowledge the moment.  Health, wealth and happiness.

The practice of toasting to someone’s health goes back to ancient times. Evidence reveals that most ancient societies raised a glass.  Drinking to health continued over the centuries. But the term “toast” did not originate until the 16th century, and it did involve a piece of toast.

The quality of wine was often inferior due to production processes, and a piece of might soak up some of the acidity. The toast was often spiced or had embedded fruit to improve the taste even more. Sugar, ginger, or herbs such as borage and sorrel were used to flavor the toast.

The Ancient Greeks would offer libations to the Gods as a ritualistic practice, as well as make a point of drinking to each other’s health. Evidence of this can be found in Homer’s “The Odyssey” when Ulysses drinks to the health of Achilles.

“Cheers” originated from the old French word chiere which meant “face” or “head.”  By the 18th century, it meant “gladness,” and was used as a way of expressing encouragement. Today, “cheers,” is used as a symbolic and freindly way of toasting with the wish of good cheer and good health to those around us.

How do people around the world say cheers:

  • Afrikaans –Gesondheid
  • Scottish, Irish Gaelic – Sláinte(pronounced slawn-cha)
  • Spanish –Salud
  • German –Prost
  • Danish –Skal–(pronounced Skoal)
  • Dutch –Proost (pronounced prohst)
  • French –Sante
  • Japanese –Kanpai
  • Portuguese –Saude
  • Chinese – Ganbei
  • Welsh- iechyd da (that’s yech-uhd dah, with the “ch” pronounced like the “ch” in Scottich “loch” or German “buch”), “good health”
  • Hebrew – L’Chaim – to life

You would also have heard people say ‘chin – chin’ as a toast.  Historians believe this can be traced to the Mandarin phrase qing qing, which is rarely used during toasts in China today. The phrase’s use in celebratory feasting was imported to Europe and adapted to local tongues after the Renaissance, when merchants, missionaries and adventurers returning from Asia shared etiquette they had picked up.

So why do we toast at all?

According to David Fulmer’s book A Gentleman’s Guide to Toasting, toasting was “a good faith gesture to assure the drink wasn’t spiked with poison.”   The toasting custom spread throughout Europe and England, where for the first time the clinking of glasses accompanied the ritual. Whether its intent was to mix the content of each other’s glasses so everyone drank the same grog (lessening the likelihood of being poisoned), or to add sound to the experience of taste, touch, smell and sight, no one is sure.



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