Why did we start raising, clinking our glasses and saying cheers?
Let me set the scene: your friends have gathered around, each holding a glass of champagne or a shot of tequila — it is a night to remember, even though you may forget in the morning — and you know there is only one way to complete this scene, with a toast and then the obligatory clink of the glasses.
The three-traditions-in-one of raising the glass, clinking it, and saying a few kind words may have originated at different times for a variety of reasons. Some historians believe that the act of raising the glass came from the Greeks, as an offering — a prayer to the Gods for good health.
Whereas the clinking of the glass, or making any sort of noise with the glass or goblets, might have come from Germanic tribes. It was believed that the noise would scare the ghosts and bad spirits away who were often suspected of frequenting large social gatherings and festivals.
Then there is the small speech, the toast. The toast, was once used in a literal sense, as people used stale toast to soak up the acidity in the wine. As the vintages back in the days were not as high quality as they are today, this helped with the flavour. It’s also worth mentioning that the act of wasting food just wasn’t something that people took part in back then. Think of it as a wine-soaked French toast.
I digress. The toast, the small speech version, was established in the 17th- to 18th-century when offering a praise or a shout-out to friends, family, and associations and then taking a large gulp of wine was an apt way to get drunk. Eventually, toastmasters were established to reign in the people who were giving toasts. Left without officiating, people would end up toasting everyone in the room.
Nevertheless, the explanation of why we clink the glass and say a few words before drinking that I appreciated the most is the idea of Oneness — how drinking excites all our senses.
Think about it. What do we do when we drink a glass of wine?
Before we drink a bottle of wine, we are most likely in a liquor store, browsing through the aisle looking for the right one. Now, you might already have one in mind, but sometimes, you need a bit of marketing to help entice. Whether that is the label, the award badges, the copy, the price, or just the way the bottle looks — as superficial as it sounds, sight is often the first attractor when selecting wine.
Then, once you pour the wine into the glass, you bring it up to the light and appreciate the colour. Is it red or white? Had it been influenced by oak during the process? Before you even touch the wine to your lips, you already have an idea of what your are dealing with.
Depending on the type of wine, we might chill it or we might serve it at room temperature — heck, we might even heat it up. The temperature of wine matters if you truly want to experience the drink at its ideal state. This can rather mean storing it in the right place, like a wine cellar or putting it in an ice bath before service.
Then you have to find the right glass to serve the wine in. This also equates to the sense of touch. The way your hand holds the glass when bringing it to your mouth, the way your mouth contorts itself and creates the pathway for the liquid to flow. As wine lovers know there is a certain art to the way your wine sits and aerates in your glass and the way you hold the vessel. Certain structures of the glass change the way you hold and drink. It changes nothing, but in a way, it changes everything.
The third sense of consuming wine is the sense of smell. We all know how smell affects taste, and this is quite clear when you are wine tasting. We all have this postage-stamp-size nerve cell in our nasal gland called the olfactory tract. Some believe that our olfactory tracts do more for the way we appreciate taste than our tastebuds. The sense of smell opens a channel, enabling us to taste the wine in an expansive way.
I always like the idea that you can only taste something for the first time once. It’s like watching a movie or reading a book for the first time. You are taken on a ride and each turn or dive the author takes you on is a surprise. The second taste is when you actually get to experience the nuances of the product. You recovered from the slap in the face. You begin to notice the red herrings and the details of the story, the same way you start to sense the full bouquet of the wine.
Lastly, here is where I like to think the clinking of glass comes from. By contacting glasses together and uttering a word — “cheers,” for example — we complete the experience. We give the moment what I like to call Oneness, where the act of drinking wine becomes an act that evokes all the senses, thus completing it.
We often like to think of ourselves as one physical thing. We are not. We are the combination of many living particles. We, like the universe, are made up of a bunch of interlinking elements. We are the bacteria living inside of us, we are the thoughts drifting in our head, we are the perception that other people have of us, and we are the presence when we enter a room. Yet, when it is all combined, we have this Oneness.
The idea of Oneness teaches us to take care of every little part of ourselves. In wine tasting, in order to achieve oneness, a completion, a care for every part, we needed to add it ourselves. We have to go out of our way to do it. So it goes with achieving oneness with other aspects of our lives.
For more on oneness, check out this trippy article.
A Secular Prayer for Good Health
Is alcohol good or bad for you? This has been the perplexing question I’ve been trying to understand from the day I was young, watching my father drink and get super drunk. That light-weight. He also smoked cigarettes too, but that’s another thing. Let’s be honest though, sugar is the real silent killer.
I digress. Back then, I thought I would never drink. Then as a teenager, I thought people who didn’t drink were nerds. Those fucking nerds. That thinking lasted all the way to today, where I consume an adult beverage almost every night. It’s not a problem yet.
My lifestyle is by no means excessive. I can afford it and I am a rather healthy person. Don’t let me tell you about all the stairs I climb. However, many believe that drinking alcohol is like traversing a slippery slope. One step you are fine, the next you are fine, and then you slip into a crippling addiction. Let me tell you something, addictions come in all forms. Video games, work, and pornography can all be equally addictive. Pick your poison and allow it to kill you, I say.
Back in the days, people had no idea that alcohol is bad for you — yes, in small quantity it is no worse than a slap on the ass — they drank it all the time. In fact, it kept them alive, because natural water was often polluted by unsanitary living. It was a means of life and less of an opportunity to get blitz on a Friday night. But you can bet your slappy ass that there was some freaky shit happening on Friday nights back in the days too.
Health. It’s arguably the most popular sentiment when someone holds up a glass to say a few words. “To good health,” they’d toast. It’s like saying grace before a meal. Cheersing is a little secular prayer.
This act of wishing good health unto your company was made famous by the Romans. At one point, the Senate even made a decree that every drink had be a well-wishing toast to Emperor Augustus. It is also believed that three times every meal Attila the Hun would be graced by wishes of good health from his entourage. I bet back then there was a lot of half hearted, insincere toast to good health.
Whether the God be the speck of light in the sky or the ruler of the kingdom, a cheers is a little wish for wellness.
Fear of Poison
The first origin of clinking glasses before drinking that I was aware of was probably the one you heard of too. The fear of being poisoned was a genuine concern back in the old days. Today, you’ll see folks like me mixing a variety of alcohol and fluid together in a Gatorade bottle: whiskey, jagermister, Red Bull, and whatever this is. Classy.
But back then, the way they ensure their company that the drink they are going to partake in was not tainted was to clink the glasses together, thus splashing the liquid in one’s glass into the companions. By doing so, the poison — if there was any — would have been transferred.
This is obviously a darker side of the world of cheers and toasting. Although there is no historical evidence that this act was done to prevent poisoning, it seems absolutely plausible. We don’t need to get Bill Cosby to comment on this, but we know how something as innocent as handing someone a drink can turn sinister. We don’t always get to drink with friends in this life and sometimes we are in a watering hole alone, fending for ourselves. We act confident, but in reality we are all preys. Be cautious of each drink you hold — it can be your last. And isn’t that a nice thrill?
Let’s talk about food for a moment, specifically food at a restaurant. When I was growing up, I wasn’t taught to wait for everybody’s dishes to arrive before eating. I would just chow down. That was Chinese tradition where we shared all the courses. We didn’t have our own individual plate, we have one of many communal dishes and my family would poke at everything with their chopstick. That was the world I grew up in and I was quite content with that.
As I grew up, I went to more dinners with people of other origins, most noticeably the European origin with their North American ethics. Either way, they tended to go to restaurants where the dishes were brought out one at a time, even though the servers, and probably the cooks too, did their best to synchronize it so that everybody was served at once. Now and then, someone would be left waiting for their dish. The polite thing is to have everybody wait to for the sad sad to get his or her food before they dug into theirs. I went by the customs lest I be rude, but in my mind I’m thinking, “well, that’s dumb… now your food is getting cold.” When I’m the sad sad without the food, I would insist that everybody start eating. There is no point waiting for me… I'd think to myself, I’m already dead.
I get it though. It’s all about coming together. Like a team, we eat together. Cheers and the clinking of glass, at the end, is the same kind of idea. It’s about coming together with good health. It like the offensive line of a football team putting their hands in during a huddle. We are coming together and we are bound by this moment. We are bound by all our sense. We are bound by our health. And here’s to that.