Drinking traditions around the world

December 20, 2011
Author: admin

Advent calendar day 20

Christmas time lends the perfect occasion to raise a glass with friends and family. But have you ever wondered what's behind the ancient ritual of clinking glasses, and why drinking traditions differ around the world?

It's said that the tradition started as a gesture to prove that the contents had not been poisoned. If the host is happy for the drink to slosh from one glass into another, then it is deemed safe.

Many hands raising glasses for a toast

Every country has some sort of drinking tradition – usually dozens, whether it’s toasting health, life, or simply proposing to knock it ‘down the hatch’.

Here are a few drinking traditions from around the world as a handy guide.


Toasts in Scandinavia are famous for being musical, with drinking and songs lasting the whole evening. It's customary for guests to write witty songs about the occasion, adapting a familiar tune with their own lyrics. Thereafter, all guests are encouraged to stand up and sing a celebratory song at some point throughout the event.


In Ukraine they say ‘budmo!’ which translates into ‘we’ll live forever!’ and everyone else gives a throaty ‘hey!’ This ‘hey’ is repeated two or three times before anyone actually drinks.


For special occasions, a bottle of ‘bai jiu’ lovingly known as firewater is placed on the table. This strong spirit has little flavour, but delivers a powerful kick to the throat. Throughout the meal, it's customary to pick up your shot glass of bai jiu, raise your glass to someone else at the table, and say ‘gan bei’ followed by the name of the person you want to drink with. This is a request to ‘drink the glass dry’ together.

As a sign of respect, it's important to drink the whole contents of the glass while looking at the person you are drinking with. If you don’t want to drink, it’s a good idea to turn your glass upside down and explain that 'your doctor will not allow you to drink'.


The Japanese see drinking as a way to unwind from a long day in business. It's frowned upon to pour your own drinks, you must only pour drinks for the people around you. This makes a celebration a more sociable event. Here, you may say 'banzai!' as a toast, which means 'may you live a thousand years'.

Around the world

Cornish: 'Sowena!' (Cheers)
England: 'Cheers!' (Good wishes)
Wales:  'Iechyd da!' (Good health)
Germany: 'Prost!' (May it be good)
Romania: 'Noroc!' (Good luck)
Philippines: 'Mabuhay!' (Long life)
Turkey: 'Şerefe!' (To honour)
Croatia: 'živjeli!' (To life)
Poland: 'Na Zdrowie!' (Bless you)

A Time of Gifts Calendar, Celebrations

4 responses to Drinking traditions around the world

  1. Rafal Pszczolkowski Photography says:

    Hi, In Poland we say " Na Zdrowie" Cheers or Bless You :)

  2. Matthew Clarke says:

    As Eden is in Cornwall, would be nice in Cornish: "Sowena" or "Yehes da"

  3. hwild says:

    Good call Matthew, quite right we should have a Cornish version! Will add that in now.

  4. Nina says:

    In Croatian cheers is 'živjeli' to a mixed or male group of people (živio to a single man, živjela to a single woman and živjele to a group of women).

    It means 'to life', which I love, especially as we're approaching 21st Dec and soon the days will get longer and spring will come again. :-)

    Živjeli to you all!

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