Dear Wine Ladies,
At a recent pub gathering a few friends and I we were in a particularly celebratory mood and proceeded to clink our glasses and boisterously announce “cheers” every chance we got. I was just wondering how this custom got started? Why do we say cheers when we clink our glasses and can we only participate with an alcoholic drink?
Robin, Detroit Michigan
Great questions! There are a couple of theories out there as to why we clink and cheer. The most interesting of which dates back to ancient times and protecting ones self from the possibility of an untimely death by poison. The custom began with a host pouring some of his guests wine into his own drinking vessel. Then drinking it first to prove that the drink was safe. This then evolved into clanking the vessels together. Quite assertively, so that a little of each drink would spill into the others. This practice of course proving that all could be trusted. One other explanation we’ve come across states that the clanking of the glasses was meant to drive away any evil spirits.
The word cheer actually comes from the Latin word for face and was used to describe facial expressions, whether “cheer-ful” or not. In the early 18th century it came to signify happiness and eventually became a gesture of best wishes, celebration and camaraderie.
As to restrictions on participation, although any records we could find point to wine and/or beer being the beverage with which to cheer, we say anything goes! Cheers! Prost! Salut! Na zdravje or Skal from around the world!