The following is excerpted from the US Navy's "Mess Night Manual", Naval School, Civil Engineer Corps Officers, Port Hueneme, California, August 1986, and contains a very readable description of how to give a wine toast...
A toast is a social formality in which wine or liquor is drunk in honor of an individual or organization. The custom of toasting is very old, dating from the pre-Christian era. Today it is practiced throughout the world with slight variations in different localities.
The term "toast" has its origin in sixteenth century England, where it was fashionable to add a small piece of toasted bread to drinks. The toast was a delicacy, somewhat like the olive in a martini. It thus became customary for the term "toast" to be applied to a drink proposed in honor of a person during a meal or at its conclusion. Although the bit of toast is no longer used, the term has survived to the present day.
In our society, toasting is a part of many occasions - wedding receptions, engagement parties, anniversaries, wetting-down parties, and official dinners, including Mess Nights. Much of the etiquette of toasting is the same for these occasions. For the details of toasting at occasions other than Mess Nights, the reader should consult one of the many excellent books available on social etiquette.
Toasts are offered in honor of one or more individuals or organizations. Toasting to places or things is improper. Thus when proposing a toast to a command, one must be careful to speak of the command as an organization of people rather than as a geographical location or a facility. When toasting individuals, it is proper to toast the individual's position, but not toasting them by name.
When a toast is proposed, all persons present stand and participate except those who are the object of the toast. These persons may either stand or remain seated, but do not sip the drink, for to do so would be to drink to oneself. It is entirely proper to drink to ones own country or head of state. Although some etiquette books disagree, it has become the practice to drink to ones service, i.e., "The Navy," when that service is the only one present. Likewise, it has become customary to drink to ones own component of the service when nearly everyone is a Civil Engineer Corps Officer, all would participate in toasts to "The Civil Engineer Corps" and "The Seabees". However, a few naval officers at a civilian dinner would not participate in a toast to "The Navy." It is always improper to drink to ones own command. This restriction may be circumvented by toasting the commanding officer of the command.
Toasts are usually made with champagne, but other wines are also suitable. At a Mess Night, port wine is used for all toasts. Although civilian practice is more permissive, in the military, toasts are never drunk with liqueurs, soft drinks, or water. Tradition is that the object of a toast with water will die by drowning.
There are other traditional reasons why water is not available during the toasting. In 1649, Oliver Cromwell took over the government of England upon the execution of Charles I. The Royal Successor, James I, was in exile on the Continent. Thus, it came to pass that certain subterfuges developed in the military among the officers remaining loyal to the crown. Water goblets formerly remained on the table during the toasts, and the officers remaining loyal to the uncrowned king always passed their wine over the water in the goblet. In this manner, they were secretly and silently saluting the Royal Exile, who was "over the water." When this clandestine homage was exposed, the least of the consequences was the removal of water goblets prior to passing the port, a custom which remains with us today.
It is socially improper to refuse to participate in a toast, even though one does not drink. A non-drinker should lift his glass of wine to his lips without actually drinking it.
International custom dictates certain procedures which are followed when toasts are exchanged in foreign messes or United States messes when foreign guests are present. At the end of the meal, the host proposes a standing toast to the head of state of the foreign guest's country. All present rise, repeat the toast, sip the wine (or raise it to their lips if they are non-drinkers), remain standing while the national anthem of the guest's country is played, following which they sit down. A minute or so later, the highest ranking foreign guest then responds by proposing a toast to the head of state of the host's country. (All rise, repeat the toast, drink, remain standing through the national anthem of the host's country, and sit down.) These toasts may be followed by toasts to the services present.
If it should occur that guests from several foreign countries are present, the host may propose a collective toast to the heads of their states. They should be named in order of seniority of the guests present. The highest ranking foreign guest then responds with a toast to the head of state of the host's country.
When drinking a toast, one should sip the wine. It is not necessary to empty the glass. Several toasts may be made with the same glass of wine. He who exercises moderation in drinking each toast will survive a long series of toasts in better fashion than one who "bottoms-up" on each toast. This is especially true at a Mess Night where the port wine used for toasting is sweet and strong.
It is customary for a special toast to be given for each evening of the week. The toasts are as follows:
Monday night: "Our ships at sea"
Tuesday night: "Our men"
Wednesday night: "Ourselves"
Thursday night: "A bloody war or a sickly season"
Friday night: "A willing foe and sea-room"
Saturday night: "Sweethearts and wives"
Sunday night: "Absent friends"
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