Nancy Ling is an Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. She is also an author and a poet and loves working with adults, children and teens and teaching poetry. Read her column in the December 28 issue of the Norwood Transcript & Record.
It’s that time of year again. You’ve found yourself smack dab in the middle of the holidays. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, there is a chance that you might be called upon to give a toast, especially if you are hosting a party. Perhaps this year you’ll blow the socks off of Great Uncle Lou when you raise your glass and offer a toast with great poise and finesse. In the words of de Cervantes, “Preparation is half the victory.”
Of course all the preparation in the world can’t prevent those unanticipated events best known as bloopers. Think of the hours, months, days that go into planning the perfect wedding. If you’ve watched those famous wedding bloopers, all it takes for one ceremony to go amuck is a well-meaning best man stepping on the bride’s train. Next thing you know both the bride and the minister are splashing into the pool’s blue waters behind them.
Still, as any professional toastmaster will tell you, it pays to keep a toast or joke in your back pocket for those important life events. When done well, a toast is memorable—a custom worthy of preservation. In days of old, even the humble blacksmith was equipped to ring in the New Year with a few words:
May your nets be always full—
your pockets never empty.
May your horse not cast a shoe
nor the devil look at you
in the coming year.
As Paul Dickson says in his book Toasts: Over 1,500 of the Best Toasts, Sentiments, Blessings, and Graces, “There are a number of old things which we are well rid of—child labor, the Berlin Wall, scurvy, glass shampoo bottles, and too many others to mention—but there are still others that we are foolish to let slip away. Toasting is one of them.”
The custom of raising a glass to health, prosperity, and the holidays dates back to antiquity. It may be difficult to picture the cavemen toasting to a good hunt, but certainly the Hebrews, Persians and Egyptians were toasters. Even Attila and his Huns “led no less than three rounds of toasts for each course during a dinner of many courses,” according to Dickson. We can only imagine what a New Year’s toast by Attila would sound like: “Here’s to fast horses and conquering the small people of the world.” Certainly, no one would want to leave Attila off of their guest list; there might be dire consequences.
In Great Britain, some of the first toasts to the New Year began as old wassailing songs, the following being one of those recorded:
Here’s to ________ and his right ear,
God send our maister a Happy New Year;
A Happy New Year as e’er he did see—
With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.
While that toast may be outdated for our tastes, even the modern toaster can feel daunted trying to find the perfect toast for an event. One can be left tongue-tied and uninspired at the last minute. It’s true, the modern guest can whip out a smart phone from his back pocket, Google “Toasts” with one hand and raise a glass to cheer the New Year, all in one stride. This is all well and good, but there is something in the presentation that might be missing. After all, toasting is an art, a form of human expression.
Along with Dickson’s book, there are other helpful sources that can be found in our Minuteman system. Toasts for Every Occasion: Warm, Wise, and Witty Words Collected from Around the World by Jennifer Rahel Conover contains 1,300 toasts with an extensive list of 170 categories, including the blacksmith toast above. Some of the categories will give you a laugh between Baldness, Drunkenness and the light topic of Hell. For the New Year, you can’t go wrong with this one:
Here’s to the blessings of the year,
Here’s to the friends we hold so dear,
To peace on earth, both far and near.
The editors of Town & Country publish one of my favorite books. Town & Country Toasts for Every Occasion is well-organized, easy read. Along with several holiday toasts, you can find a toast or two on the subject of Fishing. What more could one need then a little hook, a line and some bubbly? Maybe Attila could have learned from this well-mannered book. As the saying goes, “teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”
The book with the most toasts and sayings is entitled, Toasts & Quotes: Little Giant Encyclopedia by Sterling Innovation. Perhaps the most helpful section of this resource is the ten pages at the beginning with tips on presenting a speech. I find “short and sweet” to be the best words of advice I’ve ever received when it comes to a good toast. Dag Hammarskjöld proves this point with the following:
For all that has been—Thanks!
For all that shall be—Yes!
When all is said and done, and we’ve survived the Mayan calendar and entered 2013 with gusto, it’s likely most of us can relate best to the pragmatic toast of the beloved O—Oprah Winfrey:
Cheers to a New Year and another chance for us to get it right.
Even the blacksmith of old might raise his glass to such a sentiment as that.