Toasting – The pagan origins

Week 33 in The Year of Drinking Adventurously. Supposed to be Blueberry Wine. Fail!

This week’s adventure was supposed to take us to the great state of Maine, USA. They grow lots of blueberries in Maine which results in the production of all sorts of blueberry related items,  including blueberry wine. Now I have to be honest. That is really not my kind of thing. So I didn’t try very hard to acquire said product. But not one to shirk my responsibility to talk about something booze related, and since I’m also kind of on a history kick I decided to share with you the origins of “toasting” since Lula has named this event Toast Tuesday.

Raising a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage is a common and age-old practice. While details may vary from culture to culture, the idea is to wish good luck or good health to someone or several someones. Sometimes the glasses are touched together and the person offering the toast may make a short speech bestowing wishes for long life, good health, wealth and happiness on the person being toasted. Usually those sharing in the toast will raise their glasses and voice their agreement, after which everyone drinks.

What, though, is the background of the custom of toasting?  According to National Geographic:  “The now-respectable custom of the toast was once an exercise in aggressively competitive drinking. Historians guess that the toast most likely originated with the Greek libation, the custom of pouring out a portion of one’s drink in honor of the gods. From there, it was an easy step to offering a drink in honor of one’s companions.”

Additionally, the 1995 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!’”

But why “toast” you might ask? Back to National Geographic: “The term “toast”—as in drinking to someone’s health—comes from a literal piece of spiced or charred toast, a tidbit once routinely dropped in a cup or bowl of wine, either as form of h’or d’oeuvre or to make the wine taste better. Shakespeare mentions this in The Merry Wives of Windsor, in which Falstaff calls for a quart of spiced wine, then adds “Put a toast in it.” By the 18th century, the term  “toast” had been transferred from the floating bread to the person honored by the toast-hence the particularly popular could become the “toast of the town.”’

It’s quite fascinating to examine how something we take for granted has its origins in the pagan world. The wedding ring, for example, is another tradition based on superstition. But that doesn’t have anything to do with alcohol so that must wait for another day! And just a heads up, the next several weeks of my drinking adventures are going to be a deviation from the book. Our guide introduces some very obscure alcohols that I’ll never be able to find locally. Instead, I’ll share some of my personal drinking adventures of which there are many!

53 thoughts on “Toasting – The pagan origins

      1. Very interesting, indeed! In my family my mother always burns the toast. I’ll certainly think of this the next time that happens and maybe grab a glass of wine in which to float it.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I never knew it went that far back? How come Saturn was celebrated?
        Back when the church tried to move towards Christian celebrations and away from Paganism they had to compromise and instead make the Christian more pagan, that’s why Christmas is when it is and there are many pagan symbols used at Christmas like the Holly and ivy. Weird innit?

        Liked by 1 person

    1. As in superstitions aren’t valid? I think the only instance I used the word was in my brief mention of the wedding ring. Should I have said ‘another pagan tradition’ instead? I think I just meant to vary and economize my words.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Neat history of the toast. It’s so funny how certain customs change into what they are today. Words even. My Middle-Ages English teacher told us it used to be a good thing to be a “snob” it meant good taste or character etc…but now it’s obviously, quite different.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the toast was meant to filter out the multiple sediments found in wines, ales, meads etc. I’ll stick to my single Malt. Having said that, I’m on Irish blended whisky at the moment. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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