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Check out our collection of toasts, both silly and sublime.

    One toasting historian says a primitive form dates back thousands of years to nomadic tribes who splattered a few drops of drink on sacrificial altars to appease the hunting gods.

    A toast, closely followed by 15 or 20 more, has been the hallmark of raging parties throughout history. Consider, for example, the 450 C.E. blowout at which British King Vortigern handed over the entire province of Kent to the Saxons in return for the hand of the lovely Rowena, daughter of Saxon leader Hengist. What was it about Rowena that caught the good king's eye? What provoked him to, according to historian Geoffrey of Monmouth, make passionate love to her in the midst of the festivities?

    Perhaps it was the toast she proposed in his honor, and the heavy drinking that followed: "Louerd King, waes hael!" (Lord King, be of health!) To which the good king replied, "Drink waes hael." (In this salutation, we find the etymological beginning of the drink we know as wassail.)

    The word "toast," as applied to a drink, has its roots in the 1600s, when it was common to throw in a piece of bread or a crouton as flavoring. According to toasting historian Paul Dickson, the first application of the word occurred in 1709 in the English city of Bath. A "celebrated beauty" was bathing in public when an admirer, taken by her loveliness, filled a cup of the bath water and drank to her. Soon after, another half-potted admirer declared his admiration for the lady but his revulsion for the bath water. He offered, instead, to just eat the toast in her honor. The term stuck.

    It's important to note, however, that almost as long as people have been toasting one another, there have been those who believed the custom was nothing more than an excuse for debauchery. Dickson notes that Charles the Great, Maximilian, Charles V and even Louis XIV all enacted laws against toasting. Temperance societies railed against toasting and the practice was even made illegal in colonial Massachusetts (but the law was repealed 11 years after it was enacted because it was largely ignored).

    With a nod to Garrison Keillor, I propose a toast to all these old fuddy-duddies, who probably killed many a party with such temperate outlooks: "May your soul be forever tormented by fire and your bones be dug up by dogs and dragged through the streets of Minneapolis."

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From the Dec. 7-13, 1995 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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