Since New Year’s Eve is the toastiest holiday on the calendar, there’s no better time to consider what the rest of the world is thinking while they’re clinking. And since wanderlustful readers might be ringing in the new year anywhere from New York City to Rome this season, it’s best to know how the locals celebrate. Here, we break down the most unique toasting traditions from around the world, so you can be prepared wherever you’re pouring yourself a glass.
Where Do Toasting Drinks Come From?
“The custom of drinking a ‘health’ to the prosperity, happiness, luck or good health of another dates back to antiquity—and, perhaps, into prehistory,” writes author Paul Dickson in his book Toasts: Over 1,500 of the Best Toasts, Sentiments, Blessings and Graces. He follows the drinking ritual back to the ancient Hebrews, Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Saxons and Huns (apparently Attila was a fan). “Although people had been drinking to one another for centuries, it wasn’t called ‘toasting’ until the seventeenth century, when it was customary to place a piece of toast or a crouton in the drink.”
The specific habit of tapping drinking glasses together has several potential origins. Some practitioners believed the practice warded off evil spirits by creating a bell-like noise, Dickson writes, while others thought that clinking cups—and splashing liquid between two vessels—was a means of proving that one person wasn’t trying to poison the other. But in truth, nobody quite knows the true origin of toasting drinks.
Whatever its origin, toasting is an enduring and beloved feature of the human experience. Toasts are performed at weddings, funerals, birthdays, feasts, holidays and other ceremonies. New Year’s Eve is a time to look back with nostalgia, while also offering a toast to our hopes for the future. So, let’s raise a glass to these toasting traditions from around the world, and as the song says, “We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for the sake of Auld Lang Syne.”
Toasting Traditions from Around the World
One of Australia’s largest cities, Sydney, celebrates New Year’s Eve with a dazzling display of fireworks and a giant party. “We love to do a toast in Australia, for any occasion, but especially at New Year’s Eve when the clock strikes midnight,” says Stefano Catino, co-founder of Sydney’s Maybe Sammy cocktail bar, which recently earned a spot on The World’s 50 Best Bars list.
Australian revelers typically say “cheers” and take turns buying rounds of drinks when they’re out with a group of friends. “I think a toast is a respectful way of acknowledging the sincerity and emotion of the occasion and celebrating with those nearest and dearest,” says Catino.
What locals are toasting with: “We’ll be pouring Champagne Taittinger for all our guests at midnight, but for me, I’ll probably enjoy one of our cocktails, The Prince and the Showgirl,” Catino says. “Our current cocktail menu has been inspired by artistic doyennes, and this particular cocktail”—a fresh and fruity twist on a Ramos gin fizz—”is an homage to Marilyn Monroe.”
A common Hawaiian toasting tradition uses the phrase “i ke ola,”which means “here’s to life,” according to Cheers! Around the World in 80 Toasts by Brandon Cook. “To do the toast properly, lift your cocktail, look your companion in the eyes, pronounce his or her name and then follow up with the Hawaiian ‘i ke ola,’” he writes. “Adding ‘maikai’ or ‘pono’ at the end of the blessing will also invoke feelings of goodness or excellence.” Though difficult to translate directly, “maikai” means “goodness and praise” and “pono” means “righteousness.”
What locals are toasting with: When visiting Hawaii, Cook recommends you toast with awa (sometimes called kava), a root-derived ceremonial drink.
“In Canada, it is customary to raise a glass and toast with a simple ‘cheers,’ with the wish of happiness and good health as we clink our glasses and make eye contact to those around us,” says Sam Clark, Regional Manager of Bars and Mixology for Fairmont Banff Springs and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. “During a toast, we are also stimulating our senses. We can see, touch, taste and smell what we’re drinking. By clinking our glasses during a toast, the sound delightfully rounds off all five senses, completing the experience.”
In his book on toasts, Dickson shares a gruesome theory on the origin of Norway’s popular toast, “skål.” Derived from the Old Norse word, “skāl” (meaning “bowl”), the toast began with the warrior practice of drinking ale or mead from the skull of a defeated enemy. According to Dickson, the skull part ended in the 11th century, but the word “skål” lives on as a modern toast.
What locals are toasting with: Though sipping from a skull may not be a thing anymore, you can still order a glass of Nordic wine, the Scandinavian spirit aquavit or other Nordic spirits to celebrate.
In Turkey, the toast “şerefe” comes from “sharafan,” an Arabic word for “honor,” according to Cook.
“Peruvians love to celebrate important moments. For example, a holiday, a business closing or birthdays,” says Luiggy Abel Arteaga Conislla, manager of the historic Bar Inglés at the Country Club Lima Hotel. “They generally pronounce the word ‘salud’ [health], which actually comes from the phrase ‘para tu salud’ [for your health] in Spanish.”
Ukrainians propose toasts in a sequence, according to Cook. The first toast is devoted to new meetings, the second toast is to new friends and the third toast is to women (or love). The person offering the toast must stand, raise a glass and share a brief anecdote explaining why they’re paying tribute to that subject. No clinking of glasses is required. Cook also recommends the traditional Ukrainian toast, “budmo,” meaning “we will,” which is shortened from the eloquent statement, “we will live forever.”
What locals are toasting with: Though vodka is synonymous with this region, many Ukrainians turn to fruit-based liqueurs called nalyvka for celebrations.
There’s a formal protocol for toasting in Japan, as Cook recounts in his global guide. A Japanese host pours a small glass of beer for a guest before he pours his own. The guest should hold their glass with one hand while putting the other hand under the glass, keeping a flat palm. The host lowers his glass below the level of the guest’s glass as a show of respect, but then the guest should lower their own glass as well. The ritual ends by clinking glasses and saying “kan pai” (meaning “dry glass”), which encourages a hearty chug.
If you’re lifting a glass of palm wine in Nigeria, you might offer a toast that’s also a blessing in the Igbo language. “Ekele diri” means “thanksgiving.” Cook explains that some hosts offer special toasts with hot beverages that are ceremonially poured onto the ground in small drips to honor “odinamma” (meaning “peace”), “onu” (meaning “happiness”), “oganihu” (meaning “success”) or “ihunaya” (meaning “love”).
What locals are toasting with: Palm wine, a wine made from the sap of palm trees, is a popular pick in this region for toasting, sipping and celebrating.
For almost 200 years, The Shelbourne hotel has played host to luminaries from William Thackeray to The Rolling Stones, welcoming guests to Dublin with elegant hospitality and convivial bars. “In Ireland, when raising a toast, we say the word ‘slainte,’ which is the Irish Gaelic word for ‘health,’” says Adrian Murphy, The Shelbourne’s Bar Manager. “A toast can signify the beginning of a celebration or mark the remembrance of a loved one,” he says. “It is a subtle way of offering good wishes and health to your friends and family, which I feel is important especially given the two years we have just had.”
What locals are toasting with: The Irish are known for sipping on the best Irish whiskey or beer, and Murphy is already looking forward to his own glassful. “I will be raising a pint of Guinness or a glass of our very own Shelbourne Irish Whiskey Stout to ring in the New Year,” he says.