Its almost innately built into each and every one of us. It is last part of the ritual after you oder your drinks and before they hit your lips. “Cheers!” as we all raise our glasses and clink them together joyously. It is a symbol of friendship, honor or simple enjoyment for the moment; but why do we do this in the first place?
I guess it doesn’t really matter why, because it seems to unite us all across the globe in one way or another. Weather it is Cheers, or L’Chiam (Jewish), Kampai (Japanese), Saude (Spanish), or Votre Sante (Belgian), these are all slogans that accompany a joining of glasses as a pre-drinking ritual. And it is the act of touching glasses that does have some history to it; a very clouded foggy history at that.
The Poison Theory
It is widely accepted that clanking your glasses or drinking vessels against each other was at one time proof that you had not poisoned your mates drink. The idea is that when the glasses, or more likely mugs at the time, crack aggressively against each other a slosh of my drink would wash over into yours, and visa versa. This would then ensure that you would not poison anyones beverage knowing that you too would share their fate.
This may have been the case in some more barbaric communities, however history does show by example that the tradition was for the host to have the first drink before all his or her guests to prove the nature of the beverage. This would not though stop someone from slipping you a mickey later on, so this ritual may have some legit bearings.
Noise Scares Away Evil Theory
This theory dates back to medieval times, and exclaims that the clinking of mugs or goblets was done in order to create noise and scare away daemons. The reason why daemons would be scared by this noise is that the sound made by slamming drinking receptacles against each other was supposed to replicated the sounds of Church bells, which was believed to frighten the Devil. The problem with this one is that I doubt in medieval times they had glass mugs, and history tells us that that probably also didn’t even have metal ones. The clanking of wooden, leather or stone tankards may have made some noise, but I don’t know about church bells.
Ghostly Drinks Theory
Other such “scare them away” tactics seem to exist, but these focus on scaring away the ghosts that would live in the drinks themselves. Germanic tribes would bang their cups together to knock out ghosts that may be haunting the beverage. Other natives would ring bells for the same reason. The Nomadic Horsemen the Atilia, decorated their mugs with bells and other such noise making objects in order to keep evil out. All over the world similar pagan ritual seems to exist claiming that noise will scare away evil.
Five Senses Theory
This one I actually like quite a lot. The ancient Greeks felt it was important to enjoy all aspects of the beautiful beverages that they were about to consume. A glass would allow you to see it, smell it, taste it, and hold it. Therefore by cheersing your glasses together you were also able to hear it, enticing all five senses. The Greeks also cheersed without banging cups together, this was a ritual designed to praise the gods. In the 4th century, you would stand and raise your glasses, proclaiming “to the gods!” and spill the first touch of your drink for them.
And Why Today?
Today it doesn’t matter why we cheers. Whether it is a sign of companionship, respect for the drink, or any other reason under the sun. Any ritual that you may have before drinking with friends, colleagues, or even people you don’t know – if it enhances your experience than it is worthwhile to me. Cheers!
For a full list of ways to say “cheers” all across the globe check The Alternate Whisky Academy.
Thanks to the Phrase Finder for such great research!