A cutesy use of the word libation is becoming popular with restaurateurs. I heard a radio spot for a local eatery of no particular elegance advertising “food and libations.”
Pinterest has a category called “Elegant Food and Libations,” and numerous restaurants advertising on the web offer libations. One of them has made sure that potential customers know the meaning of the L word by posting the anticipated question and its answer on its home page:
What are Libations?
“They are drinks!”
Until the 17th century, when some classically educated young gentleman thought it would be funny to call wine intended to be drunk by his guests “libations,” the word’s standard use was to refer to an ancient religious practice.
libation: noun. The pouring out of wine or other liquid in honor of a god; the liquid so poured out; a drink-offering.
Libation is from the Latin verb libare, “to libate, to pour out in honor of a god.” The usual liquid to pour out in the context of honoring a god or one’s ancestors is wine or some other alcoholic drink, although a libation can be any liquid. Water is poured out by Buddhists. In ancient Rome, milk was poured out to the goddess of childbirth.
In addition to being offered to deities, libations were poured out in honor of one’s ancestors. Relatives visiting a Roman necropolis might pour a libation directly onto a grave, or into pipes installed for the purpose.
The practice of pouring an offering of liquid onto the ground, an altar, an amulet, or a sacrificial animal has been a part of religious practice in all parts of the world. It continues into modern times in various religious and cultural contexts.
A Cuban custom is to spill a drop or two of rum, while saying “para los santos (for the saints).” A similar custom exists in the Philippines, where someone opening a bottle of rum will spill a capful, saying “para sa yawa (for the Devil).”
The following rap lyrics refer to a libation practice called “tipping,” in which malt liquor is spilled on the ground in memory of the dead:
“Pour out a little liquor”
Pour out a little liquor for your homies… –2Pak
Going down the drain I’d like to keep stepping
But I can’t get past the pain, I tip my 40 to your memory
Take a drink and I start to think… –DRS Gangsta Lean
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