How to give a great holiday toast in English

I love this time of year. Here in Frankfurt, we have the Christmas Market – which is one of the most wonderful things about living in this city. Then there are all the lovely Christmas parties I’m invited to. Some of these are business events, others are private parties. But the parties all have one thing in common: someone has to give the toast.

I’ve been to events where the toast was so good it had me close to tears. In that same vein, I’ve been to holiday parties where the toast was so bad, it also had me close to tears.

Learn to give a holiday toast that everyone will remember

So, how do you propose a holiday toast that people will remember? Luckily for you, I’ve written a few tips.

But before we get to that, let’s talk about who should give the holiday toast. If it’s a party – whether professional or private – the host should offer the first toast of the evening. Notice that I said host, not the organiser. If you are the CEO, it’s up to you to give the toast. Of course, the first person you should thank is the person who organised the event.

To alert everyone that you are about to give a toast, gently tab your knife on the side of your wine glass. Hold your glass up the entire time you are speaking. Why? Because when your arm gets tired, it’s time to wrap it up. Which brings me nicely to my first point.

1.    Keep the toast short. My husband’s old company used to throw one of the most beautiful holiday parties I’ve ever seen. It was always held in an art gallery and included a four-course, sit-down dinner. During said dinner, senior members of staff were asked to say a few words between courses. These “few words” ended up being 15-20 minutes each. The wait staff were told to wait until the remarks were finished before serving. By the time we got our food, it was cold – as were our attitudes by that point. So, remember, if you are giving a speech, then 15-20 minutes is fine. A toast, however, should be no more than 3-5 minutes.

2.    Give the toast early in the evening – especially if the alcohol is flowing. If the event is a cocktail party, give the toast once the majority your guests have arrived and everyone has a drink. If it is a sit-down dinner, it’s perfectly acceptable to propose the toast at the beginning of the meal rather than wait until the end. By doing it early you ensure that you have your wits about you and your audience is sober enough to remember it. It also lessens the chance of someone who’s had too much to drink heckling you while you speak. (Yes, I’ve seen that one, too.)

3.    Be warm and make eye contact. It’s the holiday time – let people see your human side! Make your guests feel welcome.

4.    Keep the toast positive. Don’t talk about all the trouble you’ve had this year. Focus on the successes and share a few positive stories.

5.    Unless you’re a comedian, stay away from jokes. You wouldn’t want a comedian to come in off the street and try to do your job, so why do you think you’re qualified to do theirs? If you do tell a funny story, be sure it’s in good taste.

To finish your toast, you have two options. If you are drinking to something specific – the company’s success, everyone’s happiness, etc. – the proper turn of phrase to begin the toast is: “Ladies and gentlemen, please charge your glasses.” This is a signal that everyone should have something in their glass to drink. Once you say this, wait a moment to allow everyone to fill their glasses – even if it’s just water. If you are simply wishing everyone a Merry Christmas or Happy holiday season, say so and end with “Cheers!” The two options would go something like this:

“Ladies and gentlemen, please charge your glasses [hold your glass high and wait a moment]. To the health and prosperity of everyone in the room. Merry Christmas!” (Or Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah – whatever is appropriate).

If you are a guest at the party, the proper response to such a toast is either “Here, here!” or a shortened version of the charge “To health and prosperity!” “Merry Christmas!”

If you simply want to wish everyone well, the end of the toast would go something like this: “Thank you all so much for coming tonight. Cheers!” The response from the room would simply be, “Cheers!”

For those at tables, clinking glasses with those near you is appropriate.

If you are asked to give the toast, it is perfectly fine to have notes on a card. This is a time for wishing everyone well and to encourage them to enjoy the evening. Trust me. No one expects you to be perfect. But, for those who really hate public speaking of any kind, this lovely old toast is always appropriate.

May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and may the road be downhill all the way to your door. Cheers!

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