Toasting drinks is one of the rituals practiced worldwide but of which hardly anyone knows or cares about the origin. We toast drink to honor someone or some achievement, but it has become so mundane that people now clink their glasses together before drinking for no particular reason other than of habit.
Despite the merriment around the custom, it is said to have arisen from some ancient dark practices. According to some unverified accounts, ancient Greeks used to toast their drinks to convince their fellow drinkers that the drink was free of poison. It was said that one of the most common methods to kill a secret enemy was to poison their drinks. People became so distrustful of each other that it became necessary to pour drink from a common pitcher and drink it before raising the glass and invite others to follow. It is also said that the clinking of glasses causes the beverages to spill into each other’s glasses and any potential murder attempts could be discouraged. The genuineness of these stories is, however, questionable.
A more sound explanation for the origin of the custom is the ritualistic libations the ancient people used to carry out. The Greeks often made sacrificial libations to gods, accompanied by a wish. There was also the custom of drinking to everyone’s health, as documented in many of the erstwhile literature. Sometimes, citizens were required to toast for the health of emperors.
Even though the custom of toasting appears in various cultures across the world, it is believed to have become popular from the practice of Westerners. The origin of the term toast traces its history back to a custom that prevailed in the Middle Ages. It was common to put a slice of burned or spiced bread in wines and other beverages to reduce the acidity of them. Even William Shakespeare refers to the custom in his play The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Over time, the word toast came to refer to a person whom the drinkers were honoring. People began to toast for any achievement of somebody or famous persons, even in their absence. Men often toasted for the beautiful women in the locality, giving rise to the phrase ‘toast of the town’.
By the 17th and 18th centuries, toasting became a common custom and not following it in public gatherings came to be seen as an insulting gesture. It stuck on, and now people toast in from wedding receptions to commemoration of the dead.
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