The habit of making a toast during parties, anniversaries, convivial or special events, especially among family members, is a well-established habit everywhere in our country. From North to South, we toast raising our chalice, or better, given the times of crisis, simple glasses, wishing each other good luck. Everyone is familiar with the habit of clinking the glasses together saying ‘cin cin’ or ‘alla salute!’
Yet, this curious tradition has German and not Italian origins. The word ‘brindisi’ (to make a toast) derives from the German expression bring dir’s, short for bring es dir that literally means I take it to you, or take to you (my chalice), thus “I take to you the chalice to toast to your good fortune.”
The truly Italian expression would be the common saying: Prosit. It is a rather obsolete and archaic expression, which derives from the Latin prodesse, a subjunctive that can be translated with the expression “may it be to your benefit”. In the past, in the Christian culture, the priest, after celebrating Mass, would say Prosit before returning to the sacristy.
If we go back in time, we shall find that the habit of making a toast is a very old phenomenon. The Homeric poems testify, and we also know from various sources, that the Greeks and Romans were accustomed to frequent toasting and offers of food and beverages to the gods. They drank and toasted in honour of the gods or during the sacrificial rites, when the sacred liquid was offered to the deity to make sure that their prayers were heard and answered.
When is it that the term ‘brindisi’ arrive in Italy and when does this tradition establish itself? As we know, Italy has been a land of conquest for many European peoples; Among these, during the seventeenth century, the Landsknecht, of Germanic origin, descended on the peninsula. According to tradition, these soldiers were in the habit of raising their glasses to their comrades while uttering the famous phrase bring dir’s which, as we have learnt means “I offer to you (the glass)” or “I raise my glass in your honour, to your good fortune” and who heard them translated the expression playing it by ear with the current formula ‘brindisi’. Only later, the Spaniards, who at the time inhabited and exercised political control over part of the Italian peninsula, coined the verb brindare, refering to this auspicious custom.
But the seventeenth century is also the century of the so-called poetic toast. Proper verses were composed and many authors were attracted to this custom, from Chiabrera to Carducci. Another curiosity concerns a homonymous Italian city: Brindisi. A particularly important city, with important road roadways fron the period of Ancient Rome, running throughout the region of Puglia, whose name evokes a connection with the etymology of the term ‘brindisi’.
This custom has, however, nothing to do with this town, so, although today all Italians nurture this beautiful tradition, we can admit that we are not the original authors. After all, it does not matter. There are gestures, sentences, traditions that become part of everyone’s life, making us completely understandable to the ears of others, whatever the language we are accustomed to expressing ourselves in! So, then, Cheers!