Humans have been giving toasts for as long as there’s been alcohol and an excuse to party with it. The Egyptians, Persians, and Huns did it. In the Odyssey—which was written over 2500 years ago—Ulysses toasted to the health of Achilles. But why did we start clinking glasses after a few good words?
There are plenty of theories. Some speculate that a toast drove away evil spirits. Others say it was strictly a paranoid habit, a way of making sure your drink wasn’t poisoned. (A hard “clink” would slosh the liquid around, contaminating everyone’s glass.) Neither is likely true. Although many of our traditions today were yesteryear’s way of warding off evil spirits, there’s no evidence that our ancestors toasted to drive away ghouls. And the poison theory is bunk because people have only been clinking glasses for 300 years—long after toasting was born
More likely, the tradition probably originated from ancient communal rituals, back when people drank from the same vessel called a “loving cup.” Over the centuries, people ditched the idea of drinking out of the same bowl in favor of drinking from individual glasses. It certainly improved everyone’s hygiene, but it dampened that unified feeling that came along with drinking from the same cup. So, to bring everything back together, people started raising their glasses and giving them a good tap. Bringing everyone’s glass together symbolized camaraderie, reuniting the drink as one.
Why Call it a Toast?
Starting in the 17th century, a piece of spiced bread was added to drinks to boost flavor. Unsurprisingly, that little piece of bread was called toast, although anything thrown into a glass was given the moniker.