Monday, September 10, 2012

The History of Toasts and Raising Glasses to the Women Men Long to Hold

“Gae bring my guid auld harp alnce mair;
Gae bring it free and fast,
For I maun sing anither song
Ere a’ my glee be past:
And trow ye as I sing, my lads,
The burthen o’t shall be-
Auld Scotland’s howes and Scotland’s knows
And Scotland’s hills for me!” -Scotland Yet, famous Scottish Toast

Everybody loves a good toast. Go to a wedding, people line up with praise and stories. Celebrate a family gathering and there’s well wishes and song. Every guy I know pours one drink on the ground for a buddy he misses and holds up another to the light for the lover he longs to hold once more.
“A man may drink and no be drunk;
A man may fight and no be slain;
A man may kiss a bonnie lass,
And aye be welcome back again.” -There was a Lass, they ca’d her Meg, by Robert Burns

But where do toasts come from? No… not the toaster, you dolt! And why do Scots love 'em some serious toasts? And what’s with this whole “cheers” thing for every possible occasion, including “thank you”? Well, if you must know… read on.
“O Thou who kindly dost provide
For every creature’s want!
We bless Thee, God of nature wide,
For all thy goodness lent.
And, if it please Thee, heavenly Guide,
May never worse be sent;
But, whether granted or denied
Lord bless us with content. –The Poet’s Graces, Robert Burns

First off… what’s a “Minni”?
You see, people have always drank to the health of the living and the minni of the dead. Minni is Old Norse and means “love, memory and thoughts of the absent one,” all at the same time. With Christians it became God’s minni; in medieval times there were minnying or mynde days, and even today Scots use the verb mind rather than remember. Of course, now we have instant messaging, Facebook, and Twitter to keep people constantly in our noodles… but back in the day… drinking the health of the living was closely associated with minnying. Greeks and Romans drank to one another; Goths pledged each other with hails (health) and Saxons with waes hael (be in health). Now… we just update our status… shouldn’t we call it “Mind” book?
“O Thou, in whom we live and move,
Who made the sea and shore;
Thy goodness constantly we prove,
And grateful would adore;
And, if it please Thee, Power above!
Still grant us with such store
The friend we trust, the fair we love,
And we desire no more. –Robert Burns

It was a Saxon, Margaret “Atheling,” great niece of King Edward the Confessor ,who took minnying to the next level by add adding the Grace Cup… which was a way of keeping drunk Scots seated until the end of a meal. It was arranged that the finest cup of wine should be passed around, but only after grace or “saying thanks” was said.  Smart Lady, huh?
“Some hae meat, and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat-
And sae the Lord be thank it.” -The Selkirk Grace, Robert Burns

“Saying Thanks” at Scottish meals has always been the rage… allowing basically a chance to get totally sloshed and make your friends even more sloshed. The custom was each time a glass was filled someone would stand up and say thanks in dear memory of someone not present or someone present whom they loved… that person would in turn stand up and fill a glass and say thanks to another…and so on, until everyone was laid out cold.
“O Lord, when hunger pinches sore,
Do Thous stand us in stead,
And send us, from Thy bounteous store,
A tup- or wether- head! -The Globe Tavern Prayer, by Robert Burns

This kind of saying thanks really took on an identity with the advent of toasts. You see, “Toast” dervives from the Vulgar Latin, Tostare (to scorch or roast). From classical times, it was common to flavor wine by floating small pieces of toasted bread in it dipped in spices. It is supposed that the drinking of these “Toasts wines” were for ladies men adored.  It comes from a funny story of a 17th century man who was traveling to Bath where many men were admiring a local beauty there in the tub, scooping up bathwater and drinking to her health… when one man decided to jump in and swim in the water… another man said, “I don’t want the water, give me the toast (the woman who spiced the bath). Henceforth, any drink of liquor raised in a woman’s honor, is a toast.

While on the subject of word origins… the most common of course, is “Cheers,” which entered the English language from the Anglo-Norman Chere, meaning face. It quickly became a way for people to show their gratitude to others… a way of saying “Thank you”… from “Be of good cheer,” to “Be cheerful,” to nowadays… “Cheers!”

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