The historians tell us that the art of toasting likely originated from the ancient Greek and Roman cultures where a toast was used to honor a God or a Ruler such as Cesar. With wine being a core element of both cultures, both Dionysus – the Greek God of wine, and Bacchus – the Roman God of wine – would certainly approve of this practice. Making a toast in ancient European cultures was therefore a winning proposition all around.
In our modern world, offering a toast may be one of the things that traverse geographies and cultures like no other human behavior. If you are among strangers – lifting your glass high and expressing the appreciation of someone or wishing them good health and prosperity will likely be met with a similar gesture from the people around you. If you ever go to a pub in England and see someone raise their glass and say out loud “God Save The Queen”, you will typically see many others do the same. People join in on the toast.
It is easy to find examples of how toasting has become integrated with our cultures. On New Years, the whole world joins in a toast to greet the coming year and to wish each other good luck. The classic is the set of toasts at a wedding managed by the toastmaster which can make the dinner extend multiple hours. The toast is typically initiated by tapping of one’s glass requesting silence from the participants. Thereafter follows the solemn speech that may contain stories, thanks, appreciation, and honoring statements about the person or group of people to toast is directed toward.
Across the languages, you also find similar words used mainly wishing everyone good health. The words “Salute”, “Salud”, “Sante”, “Zum Wohl”, “Prosit”, ”Prost”, ”Chin Chin” and many more are used when toasting and all refer to wishing your companions a healthy future.
Various cultures have developed their specialties around toasting. For instance, in Russian culture, you don’t need a wedding or large gathering to make a speech. At a dinner with family and friends, it may well happen that a toast is preceded by a low-key informal type speech that includes appreciation, sharing of experiences, and expression of emotion before raising the glass.
In Scandinavia, you will find people toasting at lunches, dinners, and parties raising their glasses just in joy of life and celebrating the time they have together. They don’t even have to have a speech – it’s enough for someone in the party to raise their glass and loudly say “skål”, after which the party enthusiastically joins in on the toast.
Further south in Europe in the south of Germany, a toast is not only to be done by raising one’s glass but also the custom that each person clinks their glass with each of the other people’s glass and look them in the eye while doing so. Refraining from the all-important eye contact is considered rude and is believed to attract bad luck and people will call you out if you don’t. This naturally only works in smaller gatherings – but then it is a must.
Even some navies have adopted strict practices for toasting. The British Royal Navy has adopted a practice of having a toast for every day, Monday for the ships at sea, Tuesday for the sailors, Wednesday for the sailors on the specific vessel, Thursday for a bloody war or a sickly season, Friday for a willing foe and sea room where a vessel can be easily maneuvered, Saturday for their families and Sunday for absent friends.
The US Navy, British Royal Navy as well as the Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand navies have a superstition against toasting with water since it is a bad omen and is believed that the person honored will be doomed to a watery grave.
The US Air force has a tradition to toast with wine except for the last toast which is done with water and is dedicated to the POW’s/MIA’s because these honorees did not have the luxury of wine in captivity.
Wherever you are and with whomever, you are spending your time – showing appreciation, honoring a person, wishing someone a good health and good fortune has proven to be a core of our human culture that contributes to a positive sentiment between people. Therefore – if you get an occasion to make a toast – take it!