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Dear Heidi: What’s the proper etiquette for toasting at my son’s graduation party?

Keep these in mind when you're preparing your toast.

You don't have to drink from and pass around an enemy's skull, a loving cup, or smash a glass, as has been done before, to propose a great toast.

Toasting is one of life's great pleasures. It doesn't cost any money, anyone can offer one, and it can be proposed for any occasion, not solely reserved for the most special of them.

But did you know toasts have a rich and varied history and specific etiquette rules for formal situations?

Toasting allows us to recognize and honor someone or something, to pay tribute. Toasting is a gift and should be received as such, much as the ancient Greeks, then Romans who first proposed toasts as gestures of goodwill and trust.

Goodwill, good health, and trust remain the cornerstone purpose of toasting today. From the classical world whose elite added a burnt bit of toast to their wine to improve the taste and hopefully filter toxins, to the Italian Renaissance enlightened, who followed suit, toasting has remained something special.

In the early days, toasting was a sign of trust, especially when poisoning was widespread and plentiful. A little of your wine was poured into mine, and vise versa. We'd clink our glasses while looking into each other's eyes to seal the deal and symbolize our trust in each other.

A toast would be offered, "to your good health," a version endures in most languages. During the Italian Renaissance, poisoning for power and politics was so common that a toast to your health meant, "hope you make it through the meal."

In the middle ages, women were not allowed to toast or drink alcohol but merely kiss the common bowl of wine as it was passed for the men to drink as a gesture of trust and honor. Toasts evolved, and in the early 20 Century, toasts were offered to people who were not present, usually celebrities, and they became "the toast of the town."

Today, nervous best men propose toasts at weddings, parents to graduating offspring, and business people to help celebrate and seal a deal.

So, what's the proper etiquette when it comes to toasting?

First of all, when considering making a toast, remember the three "B's" Begin, Be Brief, Be Seated.

YouTube is full of "great toasts" that aren't; many go on for far too long. Some are funny, some wildly embarrassing, some delivered while over-served, while others may prove a remedy for insomnia.

When giving a toast, know your role, and don't steal the show. This is not your day. You're there to be a compliment to someone else's big day. You may be hilarious, but save the stand-up for another time, especially in business.

The anatomy of a great toast is three-part: past, present, and future. It pays homage to history, brings it to the present, and offers a continuation into the future. A great toast comes from the heart, is kind and straightforward (this isn't a roast), and most importantly, is sincere. And, it must all be done in under 3 minutes, max.

Armed with new tools, compose your toast and practice it; notes are not allowed, or at minimum, frowned upon—come on, make an effort and learn your toast.

Next, learn the etiquette of toasting. The host always makes the first toast. Never supersede the host and make the first toast. Once the host has made the first toast, a guest may ask the host for permission to offer a subsequent toast.

Generally speaking, a host may offer a toast to welcome their guests to a dinner party or an event and may direct the toast to everyone, not singling out anyone. In this case, raise your glass, and drink to the toast. It is considered bad luck not to drink or to "fake it" with an empty glass. Not toasting with alcohol is fine. In this case, toast with the beverage you are drinking.

Typically, a toast to a guest of honor is delivered by the host before dessert. In this case, the host will stand up, hold their glass up high, and ask for everyone's attention. Please do not clink your glass with a utensil to get everyone's attention. While this is commonly seen, it is not ideal, and it's disrespectful to the glassware.

Once the host has everyone's attention, the other guests may also stand in very formal situations or remain seated. The person being toasted remains seated.

Then, the host looks directly at the guest of honor and gives the toast with a glass held high. For example, the host might say, "Please join me and raise a glass to my amazing son John, whose keen sense of curiosity, strong work ethic, and great wit from an early age has landed him here today, achieving a prestigious master's degree. We are so proud of you, John and wish you all the success you dream of for the future; we know it will be brilliant. To John!"

The guests raise their glasses in the direction of the guest of honor and say, "To John!" In this example, John does not drink, as you never drink to yourself.

Etiquette dictates that you never drink to yourself because it's impolite to applaud yourself. The guest of honor stands and returns the toast to the host.

The guest of honor, John, could say, "Thank you, Mom, for your kind words; I could never have accomplished this degree without your love and support. Thank you, and thank you for this lovely evening. To our host, my incredible mom!"

The other guests raise their glasses and say, "to our host," and they take a drink along with the guest of honor. The host does not drink.

A toast is a gift, so returning a toast is like a thank you note. Returning a toast calls for appreciation and humility in a quick response.

To recap:

Begin: Stand to make your toast, hold your glass in the direction of the person you are toasting, look directly at them, and begin your toast.

Be Brief: Nobody wants to sit through a long, dull, or embarrassing toast; keep it short, never more than three minutes. Remember; past, present, future.

Be Seated: Finish and then drink to the person you toasted.

If someone returns a toast to you, hold your glass in their direction and nod your head to them, but do not drink to yourself

I wish you the best of luck with your toast to your son, and congratulations to you both!


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