The Origin of “The Toast”

“Salud!” “Cheers!” and “Here’s to you!” Phrases that we’ve often heard, and said ourselves, but what is the history behind these traditional toasts?

Mythology maintains that the custom of the toast started in ancient Grecian times as a way to ensure that someone hosting a gathering had not poisoned the wine he was serving attendees. Guests would watch as their host drank from a common pitcher before offering it to them, or they would clink glasses together, causing each drink to spill over into the others, to make sure it was safe.

However, this isn’t the only theory on the tradition of raising your glass. A number of theories exist about clinking glasses. One is that the sound would drive evil spirits out of the wine, making it safe to drink. Another is that a good glass of wine appeals to the senses of sight, touch, taste and smell and, clinking introduces sound, making it a complete sensual experience. Still others think that the toast is probably reminiscent of ancient sacrificial behavior, in which wine was offered to the gods, in exchange for wishes such as “long life” or “good health.”

We do know that the word “toast” comes from the Roman practice of dousing burnt bread in bad wine. (In Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor, the character Falstaff said, “put toast in’t” when he was requesting a jug of wine.) The charcoal actually helped reduce the acidity of bad wines (which were much more common in those days) making them more palatable.

By the 17- and 1800’s, toasting became common practice—so much so that in French and British courts every glass of wine during dinner had to be dedicated to someone, and not participating in a toast was considered downright insulting. Much time was spent toasting absent friends, and those lucky enough to become the subject of many toasts came to be known as “the toast of the town.”

In modern day, the toast has become a symbol of friendship, respect and appreciation. From wedding receptions to meals with close friends, toasting celebrates life, love and good wine—just don’t let us catch you dunking burnt bread in your glass!