The moment is almost upon you. Sometime tonight, you may raise your glass on high and give a toast. Will you deliver a gracious, thoughtful message or mumble a careless, thought-free "cheers"?
Truth is, most of us botch the salutation when the moment comes. That's unfortunate, for a proper salute before bending the elbow adds a much-needed refinement to the proceedings, a suavity and polish that complements the convivial spirit of the holidays. More so than, say, belching.
Thankfully, correcting this problem is not difficult, for some of the best toasts are the simplest, such as the Irish line, "As we start the New Year, let's get down on our knees to thank God we're on our feet."
Herewith, suggestions so you do not falter, background to prepare you, rules to toast by, wonderful old salutes from which you can crib and even some well-known film toasts:
From "A Brief History of the Raised Glass" by Paul Dickson (Crown Publishers, $19)
The Greeks insisted that fermented salutes came in threes, one for Mercury, one for the Graces and one for Zeus. The Roman Senate decreed that Augustus must be honored with a raised glass at every meal.
The Scots and Scandinavians drank from the skulls of their fallen enemies.
The Danish had a nasty barroom habit of cutting the throats of Englishmen while they were drinking. This prompted the expression of drinking to someone's health, a promise of sorts not to garrote your drinking partner.
The word "toast" did not come into the working vocabulary until the 17th century when an actual piece of roasted bread was floated on the drink. The reason has been forgotten.
The clinking of the glasses, a Christian custom, is to ward off the devil, who is repelled by bell-like noises.
The role of the toastmaster came about in the mid-17th century. The duties entailed proposing and announcing toasts, staying sober and offending no one.
Stand. Toasts must be delivered upright while holding the glass straight from your shoulder in your right hand.
Practice. Prepare ahead of time and keep it short.
Be positive. A toast should always end on an upbeat note and clearly indicate when it is time for all to join in.
Clink. After the toast, but before drinking.
Join in. Toasts can be sealed with a sip of champagne, wine, a mixed drink or a nonalcoholic beverage. Never refuse to participate in a toast. It is better to toast with an empty glass than not at all.
Mostly Irish toasts
May those who love us love us,
And those that don't love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if he doesn't turn their hearts
May he turn their ankles,
So we'll know them by their limping.
Who is a friend but someone to toast,
Someone to gibe, someone to roast.
My friends are the best friends
Loyal, willing and able.
Now let's get to drinking,
Glasses off the table.
Here's to long life and a merry one.
A quick death and an easy one.
A pretty girl and an honest one.
A cold beer -- and another one.
It's better to spend money like there's no tomorrow, than to spend tonight like there's no money.
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That's all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
-- William Butler Yeats
Here's to the New Year
And a fond farewell to the old;
Here's to the things that are yet to come
And to the memories that we hold.
A song for the old, while its knell is tolled,
And its parting moments fly.
But a song and a cheer for the glad New Year,
While we watch the old one die.
Whatever you resolve to do,
On any New Year's Day,
Resolve to yourself be true
And live the same old way.
The ultimate toast:
Ultimate toasts were the party-making moment when the czars ruled Russia, and when George III sat astride the throne in England. A rousing ultimate toast was often the highlight of banquets in Scotland.
Of course, the drinking portion of the evening during this period would often last eight to 10 hours.
At the appropriate moment, all the guests would rise, stand on their chairs and place their right foot on the table. The glasses were raised, the toast delivered, the drink drained in one gulp. The glass was hurled over the left shoulder to the floor, against the wall or into the fire.
"Ultimate toasts are now definitely out of style," says Paul Dickson, author and American toasting authority. "A pity, because they could do a lot to liven up suburban dinner parties."
Famous cinema toasts
From "Toasts for All Occasions," by Jeff and Deborah Herman, (Career Press, $13.99)
Leonardo DiCaprio, "Titanic": "To making it count."
Sir Alec Guinness, "Star Wars": "May the force be with you."
Leonard Nimoy, "Star Trek": "Live long and prosper."
Humphrey Bogart, "The Maltese Falcon": "Here's to plain speaking and clear understanding."
Orson Welles, "Citizen Kane": "A toast -- Jedediah -- to life on my terms. These are the only terms anybody ever knows, his own."
Joan Crawford, "Humoresque": "Here's to a time when we were little girls and no one asked us to marry."
Eve Arden, "Mildred Pierce": "To the men we loved: the stinkers."
Marlon Brando, "The Godfather": "I keep my friends close, but my enemies closer."
Pub Date: 12/31/98