I am coming down from the high of three days of birthday merry-making.  There were friends, family, food and of course, cocktails.  As the celebratory “cheers” and birthday toasts mingled with the clinking of the glasses, I wondered where the tradition of the toast started. Here’s what I found out:

Like so much of our culture, we can trace the toast back to the ancient Greeks– one ritual religious, one practical.  A common practice of interaction with the gods involved raising a glass of alcohol while saying a prayer, often asking for good fortune in some aspect of one’s life.  In this act, the human shared a symbolic connection with the gods through a shared libation.  Today we share a drink and say words of hope for good health, good fortune, etc.  Further, it was not uncommon for a Greek to slip a little poison into the glass of an enemy.  To calm the nerves of dinner guests who may be leery of what they were being served, the host would serve wine from a common pitcher and take the first drink. When he didn’t keel over, he would raise his glass in a symbol of friendship and invite the guests to drink.  The toast for the ancient Greeks was an assurance that the host had not poisoned the wine he served.

So, how did this practice of celebratory remarks before drinking come to be known as a “toast”?

Our ancient Roman friends continued the symbolic gesture when drinking wine.  But the wine of ancient Roman could was not as delectable as Italian wines are today.  So, to counter the nasty taste and smell, a piece of burnt bread could be dropped into the wine before drinking.  The charcoal of the toasted bread would reduce the acidity of the wine making it more palatable. In time, the Latin tostus (meaning roasted or parched) came to refer to the drink itself

The practice of wishing your fellow drinkers well became popular through the 17th and 18th centuries. So much so that it was a required part of elaborate dinner parties.

And what about the clinking of glasses? The bell-like noise made by the glasses was believed to ward of evil spirits and the devil.

So, thank you to my ancient Greek and Roman friends for teaching us to honor our friends with kind words of affection and well-wishes.

To all my friends who celebrated my birthday this weekend, whether in person, in spirit, via text or Facebook message, I am privileged to know you and call you a friend. Here’s to many more birthday celebrations. Cheers!

Celebrating at Drink