¡Salud! Prost! Ganbei! There are many ways to say “cheers” around the world.
While nearly every culture has its own customs for toasting to good health, happiness, prosperity or luck, the spirit behind them is often similar. “Overall, the point of a toast is to recognize, celebrate and share the moment with others, passing along good wishes,” says Harold Osmundson, DTM, district director for District 6 Toastmasters, which serves parts of Minnesota and Ontario. “It’s an opportunity to add extra meaning and significance to an event.”
Toasting can be appropriate for just about any occasion, including holidays, anniversaries, weddings, reunions and partings. But sadly, it isn’t as common as it used to be. “There was a time, not that long ago, when one could not go to a luncheon—let alone a banquet or wedding—without hearing a series of carefully proposed and executed toasts,” writes Paul Dickson in Toasts: Over 1,500 of the Best Toasts, Sentiments, Blessings and Graces.
The custom of raising glasses dates back to antiquity, and possibly even further. “The ancient Hebrews, Persians and Egyptians were toasters, as were the Saxons, Huns and other tribes,” Dickson writes. Drinking to another’s health was so important in ancient Rome, he notes, that the Senate required a toast to Augustus, the first Roman emperor, at every meal.
Early in the 20th century, though, “the custom of thoughtful and creative toasting began to erode,” Dickson writes. He points to British author John Pudney, who wrote in 1963 of the “decline in the eloquence and variety of the toast in the English language.” Pudney bemoaned the fact that people seem to be “embarrassed by the formality of toasting.”
Nowadays, many of us may only hear toasts given at formal events, and often they are “of the quick, down-the-hatch variety in which the custom has been reduced to a mumbled word (Cheers! Prosit!) or phrase (Happy days! Down the hatch!) uttered from habit rather than any real sentiment,” Dickson writes.
He says toasting is a custom “we are foolish to let slip away,” and many Toastmasters agree with him. Through the toasts they give during holidays and on special occasions, as well as at club meetings, they’re keeping the art of toasting alive.
Speaking from the Heart
Osmundson says the most memorable toast he’s ever given was at his own wedding. “It wasn’t conventional, but I toasted to my wife. During the reception, my wife surprised me by saying, ‘You’ll need to give a speech now.’ At that time, I wasn’t a Toastmaster, so the thought of speaking in front of a large crowd terrified me. But I gathered my thoughts for a moment and did what I needed to do: I spoke from the heart.”
Despite feeling nervous and unprepared, Osmundson says his toast was well received. “I’m sure I made all the mistakes that new speakers make, but I spoke from my heart, and the audience knew it. That was enough,” he says.
Since joining Toastmasters in 2011, Osmundson has improved his speaking skills and led toasts at a variety of occasions, including New Year’s Eve. New Year’s toasts tend to be short and to the point, yet heartfelt, he says. “Appropriately, they’re usually very optimistic about the future and the promise the new year brings,” he says. “I simply say ‘Here’s to the new year. May it be your best year ever.’ There’s nothing complicated about that, and even I can remember it.”
Raising Glasses Around the World
While wedding receptions and New Year’s Eve parties are where you’ll most often hear toasts in the United States, Osmundson says toasting isn’t limited to formal events. Around the world, people toast at all kinds of events. Donclarte Dontsi, president of the Moderator Club in Montreal, has given toasts at birthdays, job celebrations and promotions. In Canada, celebrations for births and even informal gatherings also call for raised glasses.
“Each time we are out for a drink to celebrate an end of season at work or with my Toastmasters team, we always toast,” Dontsi says.
Dontsi, who is from Cameroon in Central Africa, says toasting is more common in Canada than in her native country. In Cameroon, “it’s only at more special events (weddings, funerals, etc.),” she says.
That tends to be true in Ireland as well, according to Past International President Ted Corcoran, DTM, despite the large number of Irish toasts found online. “Everybody talks about Irish toasts, but we don’t do that much of it that I can see,” says Corcoran, a longtime member of clubs in Dublin, Ireland. “We are very minimal with our approach to toasting. It’s not something we put a lot of emphasis on unless it’s a very special occasion. We might say ‘Happy Christmas’ or ‘Happy birthday’ but just a few words, and that’s all.”
At banquets, Corcoran says, the Irish toast to their president. “It’s very simple: You lift your glass and say, ‘To the president of Ireland.’ At weddings, we toast the bride and groom, of course, and wish them a long and happy life. Very simple.”
Mastering the Toast
As with other types of speaking, practice makes perfect when it comes to toasting. The Special Occasion Speeches manual can help members master the art. The manual also offers guidance on speaking in praise of someone, conducting a roast, and presenting and accepting an award.
Osmundson encourages clubs to schedule toasting activities throughout the year to help members build skills. Toasting is a fun way to add variety to club meetings and events, he says. In 2010, Toastmasters in District 6 held an event to set a world record (through RecordSetter.com) for the most toasts given at a Toastmasters event in five minutes. According to Lisa Jenks, ACS, ALB, the district’s public relations officer at the time, 78 members gave toasts. “Everybody raved about it,” she says. “I’m still getting comments from people years later about how much fun that was.”
Osmundson also says members should take advantage of any opportunities to toast outside of club events and formal occasions. “When you meet friends or family for a meal or happy hour, why not initiate a toast and add to the moment?” he says. “It can be as simple as saying, ‘It’s great to be here with you. To this moment—cheers.’ Be that person at the table who makes the meeting more special.
“Since we’re Toastmasters, it’s pretty much expected of us!”