Toasting is a tradition as old as time; something that we do largely without really thinking about it. It’s the natural reaction to a celebration, an event big or small, any and all occasions. When something good happens, or when we want something good to happen, we toast. It brings us together with a common goal or commemoration – it has a way of bonding together a group of people unlike any other act or service.
But why do we toast? When did the act of toasting to something or someone start? In uncovering the history of a toast – we not only celebrate its origin, but we also make a case for maintaining it as a sacred act of celebration.
They say the origins of toasts date all the way back to ancient Greece during the Homeric age. During this time, people would drink in observance to the Greek gods Zeus, Hermes, and the Graces. They raised their glasses to the heavens and thanked their gods for everything they had. We think this ritual eventually evolved to drinking to fellow men, and observing thankfulness for acts of service. This moved into short toasts for men who died in war, in celebrating of peace, in honor of leaders, and in hopes of good health among the group.
Like many things, the Romans maintained this tradition and made it their own. They took it a step further when The Roman Senate mandated that all citizens were to toast to the prolonged health of their Emperor Augustus at every meal. That’s a lot of toasting.
Among all people, toasting could not only be a remembrance or celebration, but could also be a challenge. Being able to hold oneself well after having drank heavily was seen as a form of mental discipline and physical strength. Offering a toast could be an invitation to compete or “duel” with someone. But don’t worry – a night filled with these competitive jabs usually just ended up with everyone drunk on the floor.
Toasting was a passed down tradition from generation to generation, and continues to evolve today. The Greeks and Romans reserved toasting as an activity that only men could participate in, which also continued well into the Middle Ages. Even Europeans thought that it was inappropriate (or “unbecoming”) for women as a group. When the ladies were sent to bed, the endless rounds of toasting began. Remember the scene from Gone With The Wind, where Scarlett gets up from her “naptime” because she wants to drink and strategize with the men? Toasting, like most activities, were a men-focused passage of time up until the Revolution era.
The years of 1875 to 1920 were known as the golden age of toasting because of the prestige that came with the act. Men viewed giving a toast as a sought-after service that required just the right mix of knowledge, congeniality, and earnestness. Toasts were everywhere – in newspapers, books, magazines, and anywhere the written word was used. Paul Dickson wrote in his book, Toasts,
“Toasts were written for every imaginable institution, situation, and type of person – cities, colleges, states, holiday, baseball teams, fools, failures, short people, and fat people.”
It didn’t matter who you are or where you were from, toasting was seen as an art form. After the golden age, the United States saw the era of Prohibition, and an immediate decline in the toast. Because toasting just wasn’t the same when you were doing it with water.
For the most part, toasting has been limited since then as something only used for holidays or celebratory events, like weddings. But we’re of the belief that toasting should be about bringing people together under a common cause and celebrating the little wins of every day. Why wait for some obscure time in the future to do something as fun and remarkable as giving a toast? So let’s bring back toasting as an everyday occurrence – one that inspires feelings of community and fellowship. Why wait? Let’s start living for today, together.