“May you never lie, steal, cheat or drink.
But if you must lie, lie in each other’s arms.
If you must steal, steal kisses.
If you must cheat, cheat death.
And if you must drink, drink with us, your friends.”
– An Irish Toast
I begin my post with a shout out to Danica for determining the direction this particular column would go. Thanks, D!
So, as I continue down my exploration of wine through the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch and smell, we come to sound. Not something that immediately leaps to mind when you are speaking of wine. I mean, who asks, “Nice bouquet, love the hints of blackberry & cherries but I’m stumped, what’s that I hear?”
I guess one could argue that speech could be a sound of wine, the happy babble of conversation between friends. Or perhaps the slurred, sloshy syllables of one who has had more than is good for them (of course, that might be the sound of winos, not wine). No, for me, the sound of wine is the merry echo of glasses clinking in a joyful toast and the words spoken marking the occasion, be it little or big.
Naturally, in Western culture, such as it is, being what it is, there is a history behind what we know today as the “Toast”. While there are differing traditions regarding toasts from different countries and cultures, I’m your typical Irish-German-Italian-French American mutt (countries naturally given in the order of racial make up: 1/2 Irish, 1/4 German, 1/8 French and 1/8 Italian… unless my mom, the genealogist, tells me different… there’s a chance that the 1/4 German could be 1/8 German and 1/8 Scandinavian something. But I differ to her learned opinion and in the meantime I’m still 100% American mutt-thank you for asking.)
However, clearly, I digress.
My point, aside, from my ethnicity, which I’ll have you know, contrary to typical government forms is NOT “white”, but that’s whole another blog, is that I approach the subject of the Toast from largely a Northern European/American viewpoint. Sorry, guys, that’s just how I roll. Not a great deal I can do about it. I can pass your complaints on to my folks, however, I think they were pretty much enjoying their honeymoon, so hey, lay off. I’m here. I’m not going to represent every culture… no one can, sorry.
Now that we’ve established where I am coming from, the history of the toast as we now know it is pretty simple. Like the handshake, (originally conceived to convince the other party that one’s hand did not, in fact, hold a knife) the toast is also a tradition born of self-preservation. Aw, the classics.
For most of mankind’s history when a party, feast, dinner, celebration, go ahead, pick your term, was being held, the host poured the night’s alcohol, after all, it was the star attraction, the Lady Gaga of beverages, and said a toast. Everyone then drank from the communal cup. This served two purposes. First, it proved that the host had not poisoned said wine and second, it inoculated everyone in the county. If there was a cold everyone got it and the strong survived.
What? I’m not wrong.
As mankind developed through the ages we went from the communal share-a disease-cup to our own glasses. I know, exciting, right? Just a step from Purell… that’s a whole ‘nother post titled “Building the Bigger, Badder Bacteria, a Home Owner’s Guide” (obviously, I need to blog more often). I think, and this next bit is just my own personal Willie Wonka thang, I believe that having our own glass for the first time, like EVER, was sort of intoxicating. It was like when you graduated from the Kids’ table to the Adults’ table, I know! Exhilarating, right? So, after eons of seeing one lord dude have The Glass and make The Toast now you have your own glass and YOU can make a toast. You’re dizzy with power. And THAT, my friends, is why at weddings, graduations, retirements, and any occasion of note you NEED to have plenty of liquid in your glass. Because, honestly, everyone is going to make a toast.
Is that so wrong?
I have to defend the excessive Toast Masters here. Yes, sometimes, it gets a bit hairy. There are times when we almost run out of toasting liquid (damn those stingy waiters). Helpful tip, worst case scenario, you can toast with water, just drink extra alcohol later to make up for your faux pas, come on, you can do it. I have faith. In some cases, I even have video evidence.
There are a million toasts the world over. Emily Post even has a whole slew of Toast rules and regulations. However, I believe that those very rules miss the point. The perfect Toast is about combining the bittersweet with the hilarious. It is that beautiful moment when the sweet and the bitter and the absurd combine in a symphony of the drinking class. A good toast makes one simultaneously appreciate what one has, right now, and still inspires them to reach for the next stage, the fruit just out of reach. In fact, we continue the search for something better, we are led to it.
I don’t mean to overstate the Toast. At a wedding or a wake it is everything I’ve outlined above and so should it be. On the other hand, when one is at a pub with one’s buddies, should it be something so grand? No, of course not, but bittersweet still fits. It’s a toast of everything comfortable and good about today and at the same time it’s an acknowledgement that things were not always so good and perhaps tomorrow will not so be again. As the Grass Roots sang, “Live For Today”, my loves.
Therein lies the magic of a good toast. It says, “Learn from yesterday. Celebrate today. And hope for the future.” Much the same could be applied to wine making, in fact. Which is why, in the end, we come back to the wine.
Wherever you roam, wherever you call home, I leave you with a veritable plethora of toasts to choose from. For me I will simply say what my grandmother said at every family gathering for as long as I can remember, and no one says it quite the way she did, “Sláinte!” (pronounced “Slan-Cha”). More than a prayer, more than a blessing, more than a grace, it was all of these and yet beyond them. It was an affirmation of all things family and good.
Sláinte, my friends, sláinte indeed.
Toasts from around the world- but in every tongue a toast is the language of friendship and good cheer:
Irish (Gaelic): Sláinte! (to your health)
French: Santé! (health)
Spanish: Salud! (health)
Italian: Salute (health)
Chinese: Ganbei! (dry your cup)
Dutch: Prost! (health)
German: Prost! (cheers)
Hebrew: Le’chaim! (to life)
Japanese: Kanpai! (dry your cup)
Welsh: Iechyd da! (health)
Russian: Vashe zdorovie! (to health)
Наздраве” (health) (Bulgarian)
“Şerefe” (to honor) (Turkish)
“Na zdrowie” (health) (Polish)
Na zdraví” (health) (Czech)
Budmo” (let us be!) (Ukrainian)
Priekā” (to joy) (Latvian)
“Į sveikatą” (to health) (Lithuanian)
“Egészségünkre!” (for our health) (Hungarian)
“Iechyd Dda” (Good health) (Welsh)
“Nazdravlje” (for the health) or “Živjeli” (let us live) (Bosnian)