The Coastal Star

Turkey Day Toasts: Be brief and heartfelt when you raise glass in gratitude, expert speakers say

The Toast, by Jan Scramlik (1860-1936). Provided by Christie’s

By Mary Thurwachter

There you are at the head of an elegantly set table, staring down at a big, beautiful roasted turkey with all the fixings. A collection of family and friends, some of whom you see only once a year, has assembled in your home.

It is the perfect occasion for a Thanksgiving toast. 

But what do you say? You can pull out the same one you’ve used for years, if you like.

Sheree Thomas, president of the Boca Raton Noon Toastmasters, has done that with this short and sweet toast by an author she found online:

May your stuffing be tasty, may your turkey be plump,

may your potatoes and gravy have nary a lump.

May your yams be delicious, and your pies take the prize,

and may your Thanksgiving dinner stay off of your thighs!

Lantana Chamber of Commerce President Dave Arm, who has mastered the gift of gab, plans to deliver this snappy toast:

We give thanks to those who bravely sailed across the sea to discover this New World, to those who built it into the greatest country on earth, for the food we are about to enjoy and for our families and friends both here and away. But most of all, we give thanks that we can enjoy this feast in shorts and flipflops!

“Over the river and through the woods” on a sleigh? No way!

Like many patriarchs, Malcolm Balfour of Hypoluxo Island, who’s a member of Lantana’s Town Council, traditionally has his family hold hands around the table as each takes a turn at telling  something for which he or she is thankful. Balfour, who was born in South Africa and worked for the National Enquirer for many years, remembers how he came to love the November holiday.

“My first four or five turkey dinners were all at the New Orleans Athletic Club, which served a delicious feast after athletes ran in the famous Turkey Trot down the main street,” Balfour said. “I never realized what a wonderful holiday it was until experiencing it in private homes. First, it’s totally 100 percent American.  And second, the great thing about it is there are no presents, no presents!”

As part of his toasts, Balfour likes to quote songwriter Irving Berlin:

Got no checkbooks, got no banks. Still I’d like to express my thanks. Got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.

Balfour quips that when the first settlers landed in Florida, our Indians were smarter than the ones at Plymouth Rock. The Seminole chieftainess — he said — proclaimed:  “Don’t feed ’em. If you do they’ll never leave.”

John Lynch, who lives in Ocean Ridge and is a member of The Little Club, says he’s going to a restaurant for Thanksgiving this year and won’t need to give a toast. However, he has given many over the years, and has some advice for those who want to prepare their own turkey day salutations.

“Brevity is the soul of wit,” Lynch says, quoting Shakespeare (Polonius in Hamlet). “Every toast should be thought of along those lines. A lot of people ramble, seemingly enjoying the sound of their own voice. It’s just not good.”

Last year, Lynch came up with this salute, which he calls silly and short, but it got a laugh:

Let’s all raise a glass to Wishbone and Drumstick, the two turkeys pardoned by the president yesterday (pause) and kindly thank them for sending their cousin Backbone to us for dinner today! God bless America and happy Thanksgiving!

Besides keeping toasts brief, Lynch says he typically tries to personalize his. “I always consider who is going to be there. And you try and keep it light. Serious things get weighed down. The wittier toasts are always the best.”

Kimberlee Duke Marshall, president of the Ocean Ridge Garden Club, toasts Thanksgiving as her favorite holiday. “It is the purest representation of sharing and life just feels that much better when shared,” Marshall says. “Nothing is as good without sharing it, and then you add a little wine — in vino veritas!”

Toasting as a tradition began centuries ago. Ancient Persians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Saxons and Huns were all toasters, drinking to their health and welfare. They put bread crumbs into their goblets to cut the acidity of the bitter wine. That led to the phrase “to toast” from the Latin word “tostus,” which means to dry up. 

When the custom spread in Europe, the ritual added something new — the clinking of glasses. Everyone drank at the same time and added sound to the experience of taste, smell and sight.

Thomas, a personal trainer who lives in Boynton Beach, has achieved the coveted title level of master toastmaster and enjoys helping others improve their communication skills through speeches. And she says toasts are speeches, albeit very short ones. She agrees with Lynch that humor is vital.

“It’s a skill, not a gift,” Thomas says. “You have to practice and avoid crudeness and be sure it’s relevant to your audience. I never want to offend anyone.” In fact, practice is very valuable for people giving toasts, or any type of speech, Thomas says. “I practice while walking the beach, or in front of a mirror, or sometimes have someone tape me so I can evaluate how I sound.”

Those who would like to improve their toasting skills, or speaking skills, are invited to join a local Toastmasters Club.

For more information, call Thomas at 251-4164 or visit www.bocaratontoastmasters.org. 

More tips for toasts 

Prepare an opening, body and conclusion. A toast is a speech, a very short speech.

Make sure it fits the occasion in both mood and language.

Avoid clichés. Tired expressions such as “down the hatch” or “here’s mud in your eye” are the last refuge of the uncertain toastmaster.

Be sincere. The best toasts are heartfelt. Don’t embarrass anyone. Be sensitive to your audience and to the occasion.

Use vocabulary variety. Humor is vital, but be sure it’s relevant and won’t offend anyone. 

Source: Sheree Thomas, president of the Boca Raton Noon Toastmasters 

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