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A skål is a Scandinavian toast of friendship and goodwill that may be offered when drinking, sitting down to eat, or at a formal event. Some fans of Scandinavian culture have popularized the the toast beyond its native countries, and it can often be heard in many peculiar corners of the world, especially in regions with a large Scandinavian population. The word may also be spelled skal or skaal.
Like other toasts, a skål implies a wish for good fortune and good health, and it carries very friendly connotations. There are a number of different ways to say it, ranging from a series of individual toasts in which everyone toasts everyone else, taking a sip of a drink with each toast, and a collective skål shouted out by a group of drinkers or diners. As one might imagine, in a series of individual toasts in which everyone salutes each person individually, one tends to become rather intoxicated by the end.
Several Norse poems saluting famous figures have included a “skål” or two in the lines, as in the case of “Gustaf's skål,” an 18th century song which the king later adopted as his official anthem, because he was so fond of it. In poems such as this, the celebrant is typically highly praised, with lines like “the greatest king in the north.” At some parties, people may improvise their own extended speech or toast, especially at an event where people are celebrating a marriage or another major life event.
As a casual toast, “skål” can be likened to “cheers” or “slainte,” words which often pop up in bars as people salute each other before each round of drinks. The word has become so associated with drinking that several companies that make beer and liquor have a drink that use it as a name in their lines. In a reference to the harsh winters in Scandinavia, a skål is often a winter beer.
Several organizations also use the term in their names, referencing the idea that they were founded to celebrate friendship and goodwill.