I have lived in Germany now for two years, and have just learned about a traditional German housewarming present. My new awareness of this very longstanding tradition is because of a relocation into a new office building at work. The tradition….
is giving the new homeowner gifts of bread & salt, as well as one or more of other symbolic items.
It’s funny because we have had several friends, including us, move into new homes upon arriving to Germany. But, the problem was this always involved Expats and not local Germans, therefore I had not seen or heard about this custom before.
Several of our work departments just moved into a new building. This morning, our Chef (boss) made a speech welcoming us all into our new work surroundings and gave us each the bread, salt, & coin gift in the above picture. His speech was in German, and I was able to follow most of it, except I knew he was making reference to the bread. Afterwards, I asked him in English to explain the custom.
Traditionally, in Germany (and most countries in Europe – I have since learned) give to the new homeowner symbolic gifts to welcome them to their new home and to wish them well. In looking online, I found the following list of housewarming gifts and their meanings, in which one or a combination are given with the bread & salt.
- Bread – so that your house will never know hunger.
- Salt – so that life may always have flavor.
- Coin – so you may have good fortune.
- Wine – so you will always have prosperity and good cheer.
- Broom – so your home will always be clean (or to sweep away evil or bad luck — scares me about the previous owners).
- Honey – so that you may enjoy the sweetness in life.
- Candles – so that there will always be light and happiness.
As best as I can tell from researching online, these traditions are very similar across Europe with some slight differences in meanings or items. I would imagine these traditions have grown over hundreds and hundreds of years, where the simple gift of bread and salt were tremendously valuable, especially in the harsh Middle Ages.
And, as the video shows below from “It’s a Wonderful Life” – I am sure these traditions were brought to America with immigration, but the symbolism is no longer present with the gifts. As far as in the US, maybe some baked goods are given, or flowers, or wine, or a scented candle; and depending on the relationship to the new homeowner, it is not uncommon for people to give wrapped gifts of home items (ex: pots, pans, pictures, small crafts, etc.).
However, I would dare say that in the US, the gifts given today do not come with a symbolic meaning other than general well wishes for you in your new home.
Now that I know about these symbolic items, these will be the gifts I bring to future housewarming parties (both here in Germany and when we move back to the States)…if nothing else, it is just another great excuse to drink wine!