Why We Clink Glasses When We Toast

December 31, 2010 at 5:00 am 2 comments

By Chad Upton | Editor

Many of you will be clinking glasses with family and friends this time of year and there are a number of theories about where this custom started.

One belief is that ancient societies believed that noise would scare away the demons (that they believed) were lurking around every corner. Firecrackers and noise makers are popular instruments to ring in the New Year, also believed to stem from the idea that noise would scare away evil spirits, clearing the way for good things to happen. Wedding bells and clinking glasses are other examples of this belief in practice.

Another legend says that nobles used to try to poison each other, so drinks were clinked to slosh liquid from one drink to the other, demonstrating that the guest’s drink was safe if the host was willing to drink from his now “contaminated” drink. Among trusted associates, table members adopted the “drink clink” to signify their trust that drinks were not poisoned without making a mess of the table — it was a sort of handshake.

A fairly reputable website, Snopes.com, disputes this theory, claiming that poisoning was not common enough for it to change the behavior of society. They also believe that too much liquid would be wasted for it to be practical. I generally trust snopes and usually agree with their proof and supporting statements, but their explanation on this matter has much more proof against than for it.

First of all, the argument that it was messy isn’t very strong. If you believed your life was at stake, you wouldn’t consider it a waste to spill some wine in exchange for your health.

Secondly, there is plenty of proof that poisoning was very common throughout history. The BBC says, “During the age of the Roman Empire, poisoning became a common activity at the dinnertable, especially in the high circles of society. It was certainly a convenient way of getting rid of unwanted family members, as [Emperor] Nero demonstrated.” They have a well researched article that demonstrates poisoning as a common occurrence and a popular anxiety among royals and high society for much of recorded history.

In fact, poisoning wasn’t just common in medieval times, it’s still popular now. There are multiple homicide and suicide cases every year that involve poisoning. In 1998, food was poisoned at a village festival in Japan, killing 4 and injuring 40 others. Recent intelligence has suggested that Al Qaeda groups have discussed poisoning buffets.

Poisons have changed a lot over the years, although arsenic was popular for more than ten centuries, until a method became available to detect it in the deceased. Many modern poisons are actually prescription drugs, including fentanyl — one of the drugs found in Michael Jackson body during the autopsy.

Regardless of poison threats, we continue to clink our glasses as a way to connect with each other. This has been nearly ubiquitous for more than 100 years. In fact, glass makers actually consider the sound that glasses make an important design element. So, Pay attention during your next toast, the sound may be as sweet as the sauce.

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Photo: AL404 (cc)

Sources: Snopes, Wine Intro, BBC, CNN

Entry filed under: Around The House, Food and Drink, History and Origins, Holidays and Traditions. Tags: , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ryan  |  January 12, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Very interesting!

    Reply
  • 2. Oscuros orígenes de la amabilidad | El Ombligo del Sueño  |  February 7, 2012 at 8:24 am

    [...] Sobre la tradición de chocar las copas: http://brokensecrets.com/2010/12/31/why-we-clink-glasses-when-we-toast/ [...]

    Reply

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