“To drink at a table without drinking to the health of someone special, should be considered drinking on the sly, and as an act of incivility.”
Throughout history, toasting began after a meal and could last for hours. Toasts would solidify the bonds of groups, not only through the competitive element of drinking, but by way of the pledges of loyalty that often accompanied them. For example, bands of early warriors took to not only wishing for their comrades’ good health, but promising to protect that health themselves.
Since the tradition of toasting was typically practiced among men and when ladies weren’t present, the first temperance societies were formed by groups of women who wanted to abolish toasting since it was the cause of so much excessive imbibing. Yet, although anti-toasting crusades gathered steam and some laws and decrees were issued to abolish the practice, toasting’s popularity continued unabashed; for example, during a dinner in America in 1770 that brought together 45 male friends, no less than 45 toasts were given (presumably one for each man in attendance). In fact, it was during the 18th century that the role of toastmaster was created to function as a sober referee who ensured everyone who wanted to toast got the chance.
During the Revolutionary War, Americans’ toasts often took the form of vexes on the British: “To the enemies of our country! May they have cobweb breeches, a porcupine saddle, a hard-trotting horse, and an eternal journey!” After the war, Fourth of July celebrations were always accompanied by toasts to the signers of the Declaration of Independence, as well as thirteen toasts in honor of each of the thirteen states. With the revival of the art of oratory in the 18th century, toasts became masterful pieces of rhetoric studded with sharp political commentary and wit. When Benjamin Franklin was acting as the American emissary to France and attending a government dinner there, he listened as the British ambassador introduced a toast to “George III, who, like the sun in its meridian, spreads a luster throughout and enlightens the world.” Then a French diplomat offered his own toast to “The illustrious Louis XVI, who, like the moon, sheds his mild and benevolent rays on and influences the globe.” At last it was Franklin’s turn to pay tribute to his boss. Raising his glass, he proposed a toast to “George Washington, commander of the American armies, who, like Joshua of old, commanded the sun and the moon to stand still, and both obeyed.”
Nowadays, the tradition of toasting has largely disappeared and become something we see at weddings and the end of Jewish meals — (HaRachaman, hu yimloch aleinu l ‘olam va-ed, HaRachaman, hu yitbarach bashamayim uvaaretz, …) but for most of history, this was common among all people and at all times. So, let’s bring back the art of the toast.
Toasting is certainly the art among men:
- Toasting requires courage, it’s sort of a mini performance, one that requires facing the chance of achieving great success, or stumbling over what you say. Your toast may bomb or soar — that’s the wonderful, heart-enlivening risk of it!
- Toasting requires practicing the art of oratory. A toast is nothing more than a very short speech. In our modern life, we get too little practice in public speaking. Toasting gives you a chance to practice speaking to a group.
- Toasting involves the art of improvisation. While you may prepare a toast beforehand, as the night progresses and others make their toasts you tweak the toast according to the mood and needs evening and the mood of the crowd.
- Toasting injects a bit of drama into an event. When you give a toast, not only will you be feeling some nerves, but your audience will experience a bit of compelling tension as well. They’ll be interested in hearing what you’ll say and how you’ll say it — whether you’ll flounder or succeed.
- Toasting prompts you to share feelings that you might otherwise not. We often think of nice things we’d like to say to others, but sometimes it’s hard to find an appropriate moment to express them. The established ritual of toasting provides an easy opportunity to express these feelings.
- Toasting enhances the mood of an occasion. Toasting can provoke, heighten, and even change the mood of an event; it adds a special something to a special occasion.
- Toasting inspires feelings of togetherness and camaraderie. If you combine the toaster’s performative risk and the audience’s sympathy for it, the shared feelings of anticipation and mood, and the common witness to publicly shared sentiments, you’ve got a recipe for building closer bonds.
Making a toast is a both a challenge for the individual and a bonding activity for those who witness and receive it. Toasting elicits laughter, dispenses well wishes, and venerates people, events, and ideas (like liberty). The world needs more things like this so, let’s bring the practice of toasting back!
Making a toast follows a simple formula.
- Start with your choice of beverage: punch was the most common beverage used to offer toasts
- Let people know they need to be ready for a toast. Ask them to “charge” their glasses, meaning to refill them to be able to drink after the toast is complete.
- Open your toast with a little a phrase that lets everyone know you plan to make a toast. Consider following the 18th-century ritual of beginning with the words: “Pray, raise your glass…”
- Make a short statement sharing your thoughts and feelings about the group and the event. The body of the toast can be laudatory, inciteful, challenging, thankful, or even humorous. Be sure to speak clearly and with enough volume that everyone can hear but don’t shout. Remember, our goal is to build camaraderie.
- Finally, decide how you want to end your toast: “three cheers!”, “huzzah”, “God Save the King”, etc. It’s important that you draw your audience in and by eliciting a response, they are sharing in your toast.
- “To us and those like us… Damn few left!”
- “To the memory of those departed heroes who sealed our Independence with their blood—Whilst we taste the fruits of their labors, may we never be tempted to take their sacrifices lightly.”
- “To our host, (say the name of the person), and his/her company. May they know our gratitude for their hospitality.”
- “To the health of those friends in company tonight”
- “This happy day, (name the holiday or occasion) and all who honor it.”