According to various apocryphal stories, the custom of touching glasses evolved from concerns about poisoning. By one account, clinking glasses together would cause each drink to spill over into the others' (though there is no real evidence for such an origin).[2] According to other stories, the word toast became associated with the custom in the 17th century, based on a custom of flavoring drinks with spiced toast. The word originally referred to the lady in whose honor the drink was proposed, her name being seen as figuratively flavoring the drink.[3][4] The International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture says toasting "is probably a secular vestige of ancient sacrificial libations in which a sacred liquid was offered to the gods: blood or wine in exchange for a wish, a prayer summarized in the words 'long life!' or 'to your health!'"[5]
[edit] Situations
New Year's toast, Germany, 1953

Toasts are generally offered at times of celebration or commemoration, including certain holidays, such as New Year's Eve. Other occasions include retirement celebrations, housewarming parties, births, etc.[6] The protocol for toasting at weddings is comparatively elaborate and fixed. At a wedding reception, the father of the bride, in his role as host, regularly offers the first toast,[7] thanking the guests for attending, offering tasteful remembrances of the bride's childhood, and wishing the newlyweds a happy life together. The best man usually proposes a toast in the form of best wishes and congratulations to the newlyweds. A best man's toast takes the form of a short speech (3–5 minutes) that combines a mixture of humor and sincerity. The humor often comes in the shape of the best man telling jokes at the groom's expense whilst the sincerity incorporates the praise and complimentary comments that a best man should make about the bride and groom, amongst others. The actual "toast" is then delivered at the end of the speech and is a short phrase wishing the newlyweds a happy, healthy, loving life together. The maid of honor may follow suit, appropriately tailoring her comments to the bride. The groom may offer the final toast, thanking the bride's parents for hosting the wedding, the wedding party for their participation, and finally dedicating the toast to the bridesmaids.[8]

Typical traditional wedding toasts include the following:[9]

(to the couple)
Here's to your coffins
May they be made of hundred-year-old oaks
Which we shall plant tomorrow.
May you both live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live
May the best of your yesterdays be the worst of your tomorrows.

(to the bride)
May I see you grey
And combing your grandchildren's hair.

Toasts are also offered on patriotic occasions, as in the case of Stephen Decatur's famous "Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong." Equally traditional are satiric verses:

Here's to dear old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where Lowells speak only to Cabots,
And Cabots speak only to God.[10]

[edit] Norms and etiquette of toasting
Toasting at Oktoberfest

Toasts may be solemn, sentimental, humorous, even bawdy[11] or insulting.[12] The practice of announcing one's intention to make a toast and signalling for quiet by rapping on the wineglass, while common, is nonetheless[8] regarded by some authorities as rude. Except in very small and informal gatherings, a toast is offered standing. At a gathering, none should offer a toast to the guest of honor until the host has had the opportunity to do so. In English-speaking countries, guests may signal their approval of the toast by saying "hear hear."[13] The person honored should neither stand nor drink,[14] but after the toast should rise to thank the one who has offered the toast, perhaps but not necessarily offering a toast in turn.[7] 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.[15]

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 benevolent sentiments expressed in the toast, nor the unity and fellowship implicit in toasting itself.[16] Even the non-drinker is counseled not to refuse to allow wine to be poured for a toast.[17] Inverting the glass is especially discouraged.[18]

Toasting traditionally involves alcoholic beverages.[19] Champagne (or at least some variety of sparkling wine) is regarded as especially festive and is widely associated with New Year's Eve and other celebrations.[20] While many people nowadays substitute sparkling fruit juice (often packaged in champagne-style bottles[21]), and many authorities consider it perfectly acceptable to participate in a toast while drinking water,[18] formerly, refusal to drink might give offence; noted teetotaller William Jennings Bryan, on a state visit, toasted a Japanese admiral with his water glass, pointing out that his host had won his victories on water, and if he should ever win a battle on champagne, he would willingly toast him[22] in champagne. While some regard toasting with an empty glass as either unlucky or simply rude,[23] others view this as acceptable behavior for the non-drinker.[24]

It is a superstition in the United States Navy that a toast is never to be made with water, since the person so honored will be doomed to a watery grave.[25] During a United States Air Force Dining In, all toasts are traditionally made with wine except for the final toast of the night made in honor of POWs/MIAs;[26] because these honorees did not have the luxury of wine while in captivity, the toast is made with water. Some versions of the protocol prescribe a toast in water for all deceased comrades.[

 
 
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