Everything is pretty straightforward if we only look at the simple definition of “a toast”: the act of raising our glass before drinking. That’s it. It’s a custom that has always been closely associated with wine. Toasting is common at celebrations, and the tradition of expressing well wishes or congratulations while clinking glasses is widespread. What isn’t quite clear, however, is where it all began. The toast, a particularly relevant gesture this time of year, has inspired many theories and myths.
The Spanish version is called a brindis, and if you look it up in the dictionary, you’ll find the word has German roots: Ich bring dir or Bring’s dir, which means “I offer you.” But what exactly do we offer with a toast? Who invented this expression?
Ancient Rome: a question of trust
Some think the act of toasting began in the 4th century BC, but for a rather different reason than why we do so today. Slipping poison into drinks was a common practice in Ancient Rome, which is why hosts and guests forcefully clinked glasses, spilling liquid from one to the other, as a gesture of trust. Doing so dispelled suspicion and, looking each other in the eye, they put an end to their mutual mistrust.
Another theory also looks to Ancient Rome, claiming that Romans clinked glasses so their ears could also enjoy the act of drinking. It was said that wine brought pleasure to all the senses except the ear. Toasting was a way of involving all five of them. And if you’ll pardon the pun, it does make sense.
Greeks and Romans: more drink!
Another theory points out that big banquets and parties were very common in the ancient societies of Rome and Greece. These parties drew huge crowds, and thirsty diners would lift and bang their cups to get the attention of the servants.
Celebrating a victory
Another origin theory of the toast dates back to the 16th century. According to legend, when Charles V’s troops seized and looted Rome on Monday, May 6th, 1525, they celebrated their victory by pouring cups of wine, raising them high, and shouting Bring’s dir (I offer you) in unison.
As you can see, when it comes to toasting, legends, stories and theories abound. They are infinitely varied. What we do know for certain, however, is that we now toast in celebration. It is a widespread custom, especially in Western societies. As for whether our eyes must meet as we toast or whether we have to stand up or whether toasting with water brings bad luck, well, we’ll leave those questions to more superstitious souls.
What matters is always having something to celebrate. We don’t have to wait for a birthday, a promotion or good news. Sometimes a toast to life, health and happiness is more than enough. The coming days will bring plenty of opportunities to toast with a good glass of wine. Red, white or rosé? That’s up to you! 😉