A toast of cheers | Sunday Observer

A toast of cheers

The Chinese raise a glass with ‘Yam sing.’ In a British pub, a Canadian bar or even a Sri Lankan get-together, you would hear the words, ‘Cheers!” In a Spanish town: ‘Salud!” In Paris, it’s “Sante!”. In any language, it’s a toast. Every place has its own, as does every special occasion. And, the toast may be a solo or a duet.

Humans throughout history have made a habit of basing a great deal of their traditions and customs around food. The curious practice of raising our drink containers is one of the most ancient customs.

The Egyptians, Persians, and Huns did it.

Honouring through a drink, seems to have begun in pre-history. Thus, it’s hard to say who first got the idea. In fact, most ancient societies show evidence of this practice.


The Ancient Greeks would offer drinks 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 The Odyssey, (written in 800 BC) when Ulysses drinks to the health of Achilles. The Romans also placed importance on drinking to one’s health.

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire describes a feast where Attila the Hun, indulges in at least three toasts for every course.

The term “toast” itself originated in the 16th century. One of the first written accounts of it was in Shakespeare’s, The Merry Wives of Windsor, when the character of Falstaff demands – “Go fetch me a quart of sack; put a toast in’t.”

To translate, he’s asking for a great deal of wine with a piece of toast in it. Adding toasted stale bread and spices to wine was quite a common practice at the time.

Placing them at the bottom of the jug was supposed to soak up some of the acidity. Often, stuffed with fruit and rubbed in spices, the bread would become full of flavour and tasty.

In fact, ‘toasting’ became so popular after the 17th century, that we saw the introduction of the ‘toastmaster,’ who was responsible for ensuring that patrons didn’t over-toast, which was becoming a major issue.

Clinking of glasses

The clinking of glasses probably began in the Middle Ages, as a gesture to banish the devil, who is repelled by bells.

Today, it is mainly done because people enjoy the ‘clink’ of their glasses coming together before drinking.

Yet, beyond mere aural pleasure, the act of touching your glass to that of others is a way of emphasizing that you are part of the good wishes being expressed, that you are making a physical connection to the toast.

The practice also serves another purpose, that of uniting the individuals taking part in the blessing into a tight group. As the wine glasses are brought together, symbolically, so are the people holding them.


Toasts may be solemn, sentimental, humorous, even bawdy. The practice of announcing one’s intention to make a toast and signal for quiet by rapping on the wineglass, though common, is nonetheless regarded by some authorities as rude.

Except in very small and informal gatherings, a toast is offered standing.

There are four steps to follow when proposing a toast. (1) Introduction. Make sure that everyone has a full glass; (2) Wish. Raise your glass to eye level; (3) Toast. Raise your glass overhead; Deliver. I’d like to propose a toast to ----.

In English-speaking countries, guests may signal their approval of the toast by clapping or cheering “hear, hear.” The person honoured should neither stand nor drink, but after the toast should rise to thank the one who has offered the toast, perhaps, but not necessarily, offering a toast in turn. As toasts may occur in long series, experienced attendees often make sure to leave enough wine in the glass to allow participation in numerous toasts.

Putting one’s glass down before the toast is complete, or simply holding one’s glass without drinking is widely regarded as impolite, suggesting that one does not share the sentiments expressed in the toast, nor the unity and fellowship implicit in toasting itself. Even the non-drinker is counselled not to refuse to allow a fruit drink to be poured for a toast.

Toasting, traditionally involves mild alcoholic beverages. Champagne (or at least some variety of sparkling wine) is regarded as, especially, festive and is widely associated with celebrations. Many Buddhist and Hindu countries nowadays substitute sparkling fruit juice, often packaged in champagne-style bottles, and many authorities consider it perfectly acceptable to participate in a toast.


Whether five words or a 20-minute speech, a toast is usually an expression of goodwill.

Many toasting customs have come down through the years. We still toast with the right hand held straight out from the shoulder (maybe to show we have no concealed weapons).

Toasts to the British sovereign are always drunk standing, except in navy wardrooms.

King Charles Il of England cracked his head on a low ceiling while rising to reply to a toast aboard a ship. When heir-to-the-throne, William IV hit his head in the same way, it ended standing toasts forever in the Royal Navy.

Few brief toasts

Here are a few humorous clips I have picked up from toasts:

“Janith, what’s the difference between an in-law and out-law? Out-laws are wanted. In laws are not. Happy wedded life!”

“I’ve heard it said that wisdom comes with age. On your 60th Birthday, I must confess I’m not convinced…Happy Birthday, my friend!”

“So where do I start with Gayan? He is clever, witty, generous, char….char… Sorry, mate, can’t read your writing. You’ll just have to tell me that part later. Anyway, Happy Wedded Life!”

“They say marriages are made in Heaven. But so is thunder and lightning. Happy Wedding Anniversary!”

“Some say marriage is like a public toilet, those waiting outside are desperate to get in and those inside are desperate to come out. Happy Anniversary!”

“Remember - marriage is a relationship in which one is always right and the other is usually the husband. Happy Anniversary!