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A History of Clinking Glasses

A History of Clinking Glasses

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A look at the tradition, left over from darker days

Why do we clink our wine glasses together before we drink? No one knows exactly — but there are theories behind this high-spirited practice and they lie in a darker, more dangerous world than ours.

One theory is that during the Middle Ages, a time of chaos and mistrust, glasses were clinked together so that wine sloshed between cups in order to prove that one drinker wasn’t trying to poison the other. Another thought is that glasses were clinked together to create a noise that would scare away evil spirits lurking nearby. Many societies all over the world, including ours, practice some kind of noise-making to scare away demons — bells rung on a wedding day, shouting on the New Year — and perhaps the clinking of glasses was meant to serve the same purpose. A third theory is that the clink completes the wine experience. It is a common saying that wine should fulfill all five senses — its color, aroma, body, and taste fulfill four of the five senses, and the clinking of glasses supplies the fifth. The last theory, and the one that holds the most sway today, is that clinking glasses is a symbolic tradition from the days when everyone at a gathering drank from the same cup. Passing around a single cup was a way of bringing a group together symbolically and physically (as well as saving on dishware in an era before dishwashers and cheap glassware!). Nowadays everyone drinks from his or her own glass, but the symbolism is still present in the tradition of clinking glasses together. Not only are we physically bringing our glasses together, but we are cementing a bond of unity and companionship.

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As with many of our food traditions, the clinking of glasses traces its root to the health and safety of the drinker. In this case, it goes back to the tendency of nobles to kill each other off by poisoning their food!

Wine was very commonly drunk during medieval days because it was one of the only safe liquids available. Water was often polluted, and milk was both useful for other things and thought to be for children only. As the wine was often full of sediment, a poison was easily introduced into it.

To prove that his wine was safe, the host would pour a bit of his guest's wine into his own glass and drink it first. This visibly demonstrated to the guest that the wine was safe to drink. If the guest trusted his host, however, he would merely clink his flagon against that of his host's when his host offered his cup for the sample. The 'clink' (or perhaps 'clunk' back then, since wood or metal was more common for drinking vessels) was a sign of trust and honesty.

Later, as metal and glass became more common, the chiming noise also brought a festive feel to events, and brought to mind the 'safe' feeling of church bells.

NOTE: I've heard from a reader that Snopes has a different point of view on this. While I respect Snopes when they research modern day kidney-theft myths, their entry on clinking glasses is purely guesswork, based solely on a few small-circulation newspaper reports.

In essence the Snopes article says "hardly anyone was poisoned in medieval days so therefore this is a myth." This stance is provably false. Poisons were in high use in medieval days. Apothecaries were found in most towns, selling their wares. All someone had to do is buy the poison and apply it. Chaucer's famous "Canterbury Tales" talks about how easy it was to buy poison. Poisoning was very common. In the 1400s there were "books of poison" that listed the various poisons and how they were used. Many people wore amulets against poison because the fear was so widespread.

I own a full library of wine books from PhD level wine historians - researchers who spent their lives immersed in the wine culture, pouring through medieval documents and historical records on wine. Also, as I am an avid fan of the middle ages I also have several shelves of books on medieval culture. I trust their research and conclusions. Poisoning was very common in medieval, Renaissance and Victorian days.

According to the BBC: "By the Middle Ages, poisons were common trade in apothecaries, and available to the general public." . They continue on to say "members of nobility were becoming frantic - and with good reason, as many of them were targets of poisoning." In the Victorian era "poison was so popular as a homicide weapon, and so readily available in various forms (from flypaper to rat poison), that laws such as the Arsenic Act of 1851 had to be introduced to bring the crime under control."

Finally - people did drink wine and alcohol as their primary beverage - even in the early 1900s school kids in England were given daily rations of diluted beer as their drink. It was a safety issue. Alcohol was a necessary component of beverages to kill the natural microorganisms found in water. Milk was not drunk by non-infants.

OK with that all done, I'll touch briefly on a related topic. Sometimes at weddings people use a knife to "ring" a wine glass, as a signal that the bride and groom should kiss. Once one person begins to make the noise, others chime in and the hall fills with the "ringing noise" which doesn't stop until the bride and groom dutifully touch lips. This is more about a ringing of bells and celebration than of poison :)

China: Don't finish what you're served

Ever been scolded for not finishing everything that's on your plate? There are all those starving children out there, and it's disrespectful not to finish, right? According to The Huffington Post, falling back on what Mom and Dad always taught you and finishing off every last crumb is a major faux pas in China.

Cleaning your plate suggests you're still hungry, and it implies your host didn't give you enough food. Needless to say, that's a big insult. but if you're in India or Japan, leaving even a little bit on your plate is just as bad. There, it implies a disrespect toward the host and the food, and it's seen as wasteful. Just how differently an empty plate is interpreted is the perfect example of why you should read up on etiquette before you travel!

Additional Information:

    by Susan Hampton.
  • The Harvard Glass Flowers (The Ware Collection), by the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.
  • Excerpt from Glass: A World History, by Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin. , University of Michigan. by Richard D. Drewry, Jr., M.D. has a variety of resources including the history and compositions of various glasses.

This page and any associated material is copyright 2002-2021 by Joe Walas and/or ILPI unless otherwise stated. Unauthorized duplication or posting on other web sites is expressly prohibited. Send suggestions and comments (include the URL if applicable) to us by email. CAUTION: Be sure to read this important safety/legal disclaimer regarding the information on this page.


Wine implies a party. Throughout the world, ceremonial annual events and festive banquets are accompanied by wine, and by the clinking together of wine glasses as an auditory component. Vessels for simply enjoying wine, to add to the visual spectacle at a formal banquet, to use at outdoor parties and create a sense of refreshing coolness--goblets and other wine vessels, in great variety, are party animals.

Romer cups from Germany and the Netherlands take their name, it is said, from a word meaning “welcome.” Such cups were used on ordinary occasions to serve wine or beer. The example with "Ein Glasj van welkomest" (a welcoming glass) carved in beautiful ornamental lettering (cat. no. 112), however, probably was used in celebrating the arrival of a special guest.
Events were people gather and enjoy themselves often are accompanied by games and other forms of entertainment. A puzzle goblet (cat. no. 116), for example, requires great ingenuity to figure out how to drink from it. Vessels with two cups attached (cat. no. 117) were designed for a man and woman to drink wine from together. A cantir (cat. no. 118) is a drinking vessel with no mouth the wine is poured from its spout into the drinker’s mouth. These vessels bring to mind laughing voices and scenes of enjoyment.
Given glass’s cool texture and appearance, it is a popular choice for summer banquets. Sets of sake decanters, tiered sets of boxes, small dishes, and other items fit in boxes designed to be carried to outdoor feasts. The boxes were often of lacquer, but sometimes the box itself was also made of glass (cat. no. 131). The clear, clean effect of the glass evokes a sense of refreshing coolness and brings a suggestion of fresh breezes to hot summer parties.

The final section of this exhibition introduces drinking vessels in conjunction with celebrations, gatherings, hospitality, and sheer enjoyment from all over the world. It also introduces the drinking glass of today through the work of six now active glass artists.

Picnic Box with Glass Sak&#233 Bottle, Two-tiered Food Box, and Dishes
18th century
Bindeisha Vidro-Diamante-Glass Museum, Ehime

Set of Liqueur Glasses with Geometrical Design Austria
c. 1920
Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art

*Unauthorized reproduction or use of texts or images from this site is prohibited.

Lost Foods of New York City: Biscuit Tortoni

Meanwhile, confections like Italian ice and cream-filled cannoli maintain respectable positions in the Italian sweets cannon. But mention biscuit tortoni to someone under the age of 45, and you’re unlikely to elicit a single drool of recognition.

And that’s a shame. Because in its heyday in New York City (and beyond), biscuit tortoni was as droolworthy as desserts come—a creamy custard flavored with crushed amaretti cookies (hence “biscuit”) or almond extract, frozen to the consistency of ice cream, and dusted with finely chopped almonds. Until the mid-twentieth century, biscuit tortoni was a staple at family-style Italian restaurants, where it was typically served in a minimalist paper soufflé cup. There, it was at home on the dessert menu amongst dishes of spumoni, lemon ices, and other snowy descendants of ice cream-obsessed Italian cuisine.

But curiously, biscuit tortoni led a double life. At the turn of the twentieth century, it was primarily served in upscale restaurants, and spooned by members of New York City’s elite class.

“Biscuit tortoni started out in posh restaurants, then eventually migrated down to the red-checked tablecloth places,” explained Jeri Quinzio, author of Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making (University of California Press, 2009). A search through the New York Public Library’s menu archives confirms that biscuit tortoni appeared on menus at numerous ritzy dining establishments, including the restaurants in the Waldorf Astoria in 1900, the Park Avenue Hotel in 1901, and The Hotel Knickerbocker in 1907 (In each case, the treat set diners back 30 cents.)

So how did a humble Italian dessert end up being served by white-gloved waiters alongside continental fare like filet mignon and snails bourguignonne? The answer lies in the dish’s likely inspiration—a nineteenth-century Neapolitan emigrant to France, Signore (or rather Monsieur) Tortoni owned one of the first glaciers (ice cream cafés) in Paris. For nearly one hundred years until it closed in 1893, Café Tortoni was the toast of Parisian high society. As Quinzio writes, “In the morning, stockbrokers breakfasted there late in the afternoon, artists sipped absinthe and showed off their latest works there and at night tout le monde went to Tortoni’s for ices.”

It’s unclear whether Café Tortoni actually offered the frothy, almond-flavored dessert that would come to bare it’s owner’s name—though it certainly may have. But it is easy to envision how a restaurateur in late nineteenth century New York might create a dessert that evoked the café’s world-famous charm and mystique. And considering Café Tortoni’s high Parisian profile, it’s easier yet to imagine how an eponymous dessert would end up the delight of both the Francophile upper class (at times the dish’s name was “Frenchified” as bisque tortoni) and middle-class Italian communities alike. The specific details of biscuit tortoni’s birth are lost to history. But like all great New York food, at its heart the dish is all about fusion.

Admittedly, biscuit tortoni is not as “lost” as many of the foods that have been featured in this column. It can still be found at a handful of restaurants and shops in Italian or formerly Italian neighborhoods across New York—among them Bleecker Pastry Tartufo in Long Island City, Queens (formerly on Bleecker Street in Manhattan), which crowns their tortoni with a maraschino cherry. I recently ended my meal with the tortoni at Villa Mosconi in Greenwich Village, an old-school Italian joint that never stopped serving fresh homemade pasta, and where “That’s Amore” wafts over the din of conversation and clinking wine glasses without a hint of irony.

But as my waiter at Villa Mosconi told me, unprompted, after I placed my tortoni order, “It’s a shame—we’re one of the last places you can find it.” Meanwhile, those who follow the food forums on Chowhound know that if a food ever gets mentioned in a post that begins “Whatever happened to…?” followed by a thread of people reminiscing about where they used to eat them, it’s most likely a goner. In that case, Tortoni's official time of Chowhound death was December 11, 2004—crowded off of many of the city's Italian dessert menus by gelato and the ubiquitous tiramisù.

Luckily, biscuit tortoni is simple to make at home, and unlike other frozen treats, does not require a counter-cluttering ice cream maker. Plus, thanks to the bits of amaretti cookie threaded through the frozen custard, biscuit tortoni’s texture is more rustic, and more interesting, than regular ice cream. With three months of summer stretching hazily ahead, there couldn’t be a better time to put some Sinatra on the stereo, a bottle of Chablis in the fridge, and a tray of biscuit tortoni in the freezer.

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup confectioner's sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 cup finely crushed amaretti cookies

finely chopped almonds for garnish

1. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whip the cream and sugar together until it forms soft peaks. Carefully fold in the vanilla and almond extracts and cookie crumbs, set aside.

3. In a separate bowl with clean beaters, beat the egg whites and salt until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold into the cream mixture.

4. Spoon mixture into the prepared cupcake tin and gently smooth the tops. Sprinkle each tortoni with chopped almonds. Cover cupcake pan with plastic wrap and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Have a long lost favorite you would love to see resurrected? Suggest a dish for Lost Foods: New York City at [email protected]

The Real Origin of Cheers

Though I have met many an admirable drinker, none seems to be able to offer a satisfactory origin of the clinking of cups. The hunt for the origins of this ubiquitous drinking custom has also exceeded my abilities as a sober researcher, but I have stumbled, rolled over, and landed upon many interesting facts and suppositions into the history of this tradition.

The first legend I came across was one in which cups were clinked as if to slosh poison from one vessel to another. The "clinking" ritual, according to this theory, was a gesture to prove the safety of the drink. In time, the actual mixing of the two drinks was altered to become a gesture performed especially amongst trusted companions. However, this origin was quickly debunked, as tradition holds that the host always drinks first to test the nature of the drink. The practice continues today especially in regards to wine. I have found that this supposed origin, however, actually dates back only to a fictional plot twist penned by Alexandre Dumas in the late 1800's.

My second sortie into the annals of drinking led me to a mediaeval custom of clinking goblets together in order to frighten the demons out of the spirits. With this finding, I thought I had hit pay dirt. The problem with this theory is that the sound of the clinking cups is likened to church bells, which were believed to frighten the devil (the devil I should add , was said to often frequent festive activities). I doubt, however, that the clanking of the wooden tankards and clay cups of the period could make such a sound. Although I do not totally disregard this aspect of "cheersing," it doesn't seem to be the origin either but it did lead to a new tract of research: clinking cups as part of ritual.

On the third binge into the books, I leafed past the Eucharist, and yet further back into pagan practice. I found that the Germanic tribes would bang their cups on the table before drinking in order to knock out the ghosts, and I have heard that the Congolese natives would ring bells before emptying their cups for the same reason. Nomadic horsemen, like Atilia, decorated their cups and wine sacs with bells and other "clinking clutter" for the purpose of keeping out the evil. The Tibetans tapped their cups of Kumiss before drinking. From the citizens of the Shang Dynasty crying "Kaan" to Nordic tribes in the caves of Odin cracking skulls and shaking leather wine sacs, all peoples seemed to make noise before drinking. However, it seems that not all cultures necessarily took part in the ritual of clinking glasses.

In Ancient Greece, before the "Yimas" (to your health, or cheers), noise played a part in drinking as well. A myth I have heard is that wine, as well as all other things spiritual and beautiful, must appease and tempt each sense. The bouquet of the wine is for the nose, the colour for the eye, the body for taste and touch, and, of course, the clinking of the goblet for the ear. Ancient Greeks had other reasons for clinking cups: the first drink (the Proposis, or "the drink before") was taken by the gods and not the mortals whom imbibed the rest of the drink. The Homeric ritual for this act involved rising to one's feet and holding a drink in the right hand aloft, and then with both hands in air, praying "to the gods!" and then deliberately spilling some of the drink. In 4th century b.c., Herodotus spoke of much toasting and "cheersing" even to the extent as to mention that even the Germanic savages were familiar with the custom of clinking cups. But alas, the origin, I believe, remains still further in the past.

Is this seal from the kindom of Ur depict an image of an ancient cheers?

On my next sojourn from Greece, I was led to Iran. Both Herodotus and anthropologists of today say that ancient Sumer was replete with numerous drinking rituals. I dug through all the images of Queen Pu-abi's Tomb in hopes of a clue to clinking, and I delved into the notches of Hammurabi's code. I found laws on a fair price for beer, and several mentions of date-flavoured ale, but no clinking. I'm certain the answer lies there in Sumer , but I doubt I'll find it this winter. I did find that there does exist an association with drinking vessels and bells in ancient Iran. Perhaps there was even a concerted effort in the design of cups to give off a pleasant tone when clinked together. At a passing glance, a Sumerian cup definitely shares a resemblance to a bell, especially with the detached handle. It may be that the cups were designed this way so as to cause the cups to resonate longer after being clinked. Not to mention the Jam-Danbolak or the design of the Tonbak, the Persian goblet drum as a clear sign of a connection between drinking and sound, but what about clinking?

So although the question is as of yet unanswered, 6,000 years of its history is revealed. Now, when I clink my glass to a cheers, I get a flash of all those years of history and a momentary connection with the past. The ritual has probably been repeated by millions since the very dawn of civilization. Its nice to know there was always revelry. It is nice to know that there was always someone, somewhere, getting pist.

Get out and spread more cheer

Drinking is a fantastic social activity. Many bonds and lifetime relationships are formed over good conversation and a tall glass or bottle of your favorite drink. You now have the words to use when you want to spread some cheer. Go out and use it. Also, be at one in our tasting festivities and events. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone speak your language? Cheers!

Continue the connection and join the Be Social Movement by clicking below.

You can use the Beer emoji on computers, tablets and smartphones. However, your device needs to support this emoji in order for you to use it. If it does not support it, you won’t be able to use the emoji, as simple as that. To include the emoji in your social media posts, just go to the page with the Beer emoji and copy the emoji character on the left. You can also add the shortcode :beer: to add the emoji to your posts and messages. Isn’t that cool?

Apple’s Version

Different platforms display the Beer emoji in different ways. On Apple and iOS devices, it has a sharper hue. The color of the liquid is closest to how beer looks like, basically a combination of yellow, amber, brown, and black. You can also see a little bit of the beer sediment at the bottom of the mug.

The beer sediment is what happens when it sits on a shelf and protein particles fall out of solution, and end up at the bottom, creating a thin layer of white particles. The older the beer, the more sediment it will have. That said, it’d be safe to say Apple’s Beer emoji was probably patterned after an older type of beer.

Samsung’s Version

Samsung ‘s Beer Emoji design is similar to Apple’s Beer emoji in terms of color and shade. But the mug in Samsung’s Beer emoji is smaller and more square-shaped. Also, the froth falls to the left side of the glass. You’ll see Samsung’s latest version of the Beer emoji on devices like the Samsung Galaxy and Galaxy Note series.

Facebook’s Version

What a journey it’s been for Facebook’s Beer emoji. The Beer emoji that appears on Facebook has gone through many versions, eight to be exact. The first version was released on February 1, 2015, approximately five years ago. The very first Beer emoji had a white border, blue edging, and blurred appearance.

History Of Facebook’s Version

In a span of five years, Facebook’s Beer emoji has gone through a total of eight updates. Facebook’s latest update, known as Facebook 4.0, the fourth version of Facebook, includes Facebook’s latest version of the Beer emoji. This was released on August 14, 2019.

There is a subtle difference in the appearance of the Beer emoji of Facebook 4.0 and the Beer emoji of Facebook 3.0, the color of the liquid in the mug of Facebook 3.1 is slightly darker than the color of the liquid in the mug of the Beer emoji of Facebook 4.0.

That said, you’re probably asking yourself, if the differences are so subtle, why do the emojis change their appearance at all? In some cases, some icons look different on other platforms. For example, Apple’s version can be so far off from Samsung’s version. When this happens, some social media apps or operating systems change the sizes or color of their emoji to match the appearance of the emoji on other social media apps or operating systems.

Google’s Version

There’s an interesting story behind Google’s Beer emoji. It all began when Google released Android 8.0 Oreo, the 15th version of the Android mobile operating system. The Beer emoji in this version contained a mug that was half full of frothing foam at the top. This bothered a lot of people and even got a response from Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Pichai vowed to drop everything just to fix it!

Google’s Controversy

Photo from The Daily Meal

So, what were people so mad about? Based on users’ social media comments, the emoji looked unrealistic. According to them, froth appears at the top of a mug only when the mug is full. It never appears at the top when the mug is HALF full. Google fixed the problem by including a fixed up version of the emoji in Android Oreo 8.1, a souped-up version of Android 8.0.

The Android 8.1 version is what is presently seen on Google, the mug of the Beer emoji is filled to the brim with beer and a white, cloud-like froth appears at the top. Bubbles appear at the left side of the mug, and two white strips symbolizing ice appear at the right.

WhatsApp’s Version

WhatsApp’s Beer emoji is different from all the other emojis because it is the only Beer emoji with its handle positioned on the left, with foam dripping from its right side. WhatsApp’s Beer emoji first appeared on WhatsApp 2.17, released on October 23, 2017.

WhatsApp 2.17 is the first non-beta version of WhatsApp to include new emojis for Android users. WhatsApp’s latest version of the Beer emoji appears on WhatsApp 2.19.352, WhatsApp’s major update of 2019. 230 new emojis in this update, along with a few tweaks to existing designs (like with the Beer emoji).

Twitter’s Version

Twitter’s Beer emoji is a little more cartoonish than the rest. Both the mug and the froth coming out of it looks like it’s been pulled out of the page of a comic strip! The mug is bright yellow-orange, with three vertical lines in front. The foam coming out of the mug looks like cotton candy.

History Of Twitter’s Version

Twitter stats consistently show the support it gives the Beer emoji, from as far back as November 6, 2014, the day Twitter released Twitter Twemoji 1.0, Twitter’s first version of its open-source emoji set. In a span of six years, the Beer emoji on Twitter went through a record 23 updates, the last one being the Beer emoji you now see on Twitter. The Beer emoji that currently appears on Twitter belongs to Twemoji 12.1.5, the first Twemoji release to provide support for Emoji 12.1, the first set of emojis released in 2019.

Microsoft’s Version

Microsoft is one of the first vendors to support the Beer emoji. The emoji made its initial appearance on Windows 8.0, an operating system designed by Microsoft. Windows 8.0 introduced an all-new user interface for Windows that included features like the Start screen, Live Tiles, and hot corners. Windows 8.0 was released on October 26, 2012.

History Of Microsoft’s Version

In terms of appearance, the Beer emoji first released by Windows 8.0 looked more like a black tumbler than a mug. The design of the emoji grew over time, but if there is one thing that didn’t change, it’s the black border surrounding the symbol, an identifying symbol visible in all of Microsoft’s emojis.

After the first release, Microsoft rolled out nine more versions of the Beer emoji over a span of eight years, culminating in its latest version released In May 2019. Microsoft’s current Beer emoji was packaged along with Microsoft’s Windows 10 May 2019 update.

In terms of its appearance, Microsoft’s Beer emoji resembles a cartoon or caricature. It has a transparent base, transparent handle, and froth coming out of its left side.

Festive recipes: Fire House Punch

Festive Recipes is a six-part series of home kitchen methods designed to take the edge off of a brutal year. It was conceived by Amy Rea, and illustrated by Terri Wentzka. You can find the first two recipes at (the second will publish on Dec. 16) the remaining four will be published in the Dec. 18 edition of the Heavy Table’s newsletter, available via Patreon.

The volunteer fire department in the town where I grew up always looked forward to Christmas Eve at my house.

If you didn’t know any better, you might take that to mean that I grew up in a fire-fighting family or that my mother admired the town’s firemen and wanted them to share our Christmas. Unfortunately, that would be over-stating the case. My mother, a wonderful woman in many ways, was a terrible snob she inherently distrusted people who worked with their hands (I actually heard her refer them as “being in the trades” on several different occasions this is an appellation I heard her use in reference to a plumber and to the Chief of Police with equal liberty.) She certainly never intended to invite firemen to her Christmas Eve parties. The problem was, she kept setting the house on fire.

My mother was famous for her elaborate Christmas Eve parties. Friends and neighbors would cadge invitations months in advance. It was really rather splendid. It was vital to my mother that every detail was perfect and that’s where the problems started. It was inconceivable that a party like that would not have a roaring fire in the fireplace. Unfortunately, that was a detail that my father had always seen to and after my parents split up, my mother was working blind.

The first year that the firemen came to Christmas, Mom made several mistakes. The first was to fill the fireplace with green pine boughs. Explosively flammable pine boughs – though she didn’t realize that of course she just thought that they’d “look Christmassy.” The second problem was that nobody had ever explained the existence or purpose of a fireplace flue to my mother. Ours had remained closed since the time of my father’s departure.

As the first guests started to arrive my mother – trying to be casual, yet dramatic at the same time – lit a long fireplace match and applied it to the mass of newspaper and pine boughs. The guests collected their drinks from the dining room and walked into the living room just in time to see a sheet of flame erupt from the pine boughs, try to rush up the chimney and stymied by the closed flue, wash over the mantelpiece, igniting the pine-cone wreath, the wood paneling, and our Christmas stockings.

The firemen were very understanding and managed to keep a straight face as they explained to my mother what a flue was and how it should be used. And, of course, they stayed for food and drink. We lived in a small town and they were as aware as anybody of my mother’s attitudes towards her social inferiors (as she saw them). They relished the opportunity to have a drink and a laugh at her expense. To everybody’s credit, the firemen and my mother all behaved with grace and aplomb, but we all knew this was killing my mother and the firemen became my new heroes.

The next year my mother took great pains to make sure she opened the flue on the fireplace. Unfortunately, the flue had remained open since the previous Christmas Eve and what she actually did was close it. (This went a long way toward explaining our high fuel costs the previous winter.) Nothing actually caught on fire, but the house filled with smoke and the fire department was called in to use their blowers to shift it out. And, of course, the fire-fighters stayed for food and drink. The sound of their clinking glasses and hearty laughter was almost drowned out by the grinding of my mother’s teeth.

On the third year, the Fire Department outdid itself. In a stroke of genius, at about four o’clock in the afternoon, they called ahead to find out if my mother would be needing them. I happened to be there as she covered the mouthpiece of the telephone and silently counted to ten, then primly informed them that no, she would not be needing their services. Considering the throbbing vein in her forehead, it was a masterful performance.

Unfortunately, about an hour after that, all the pipes in the living room burst and we celebrated Christmas Eve under a foot of water that the fire department had to come pump out for us.

Fire House Punch

Juice of six lemons
8 oz. (226 gr.) powdered sugar
1 cup apricot brandy
½ cup dark rum – preferably Pusser’s or Myers’s
½ cup peach brandy
5 cups (40 oz.) plain seltzer

Mix all ingredients in a large punch bowl, adding the seltzer last and stirring gently.

Chill with a single block of ice, preferably a round one made from freezing a mid-sized water balloon, then stripping away the rubber.

Watch the video: The history clinking glasses when we propose a toast