February 13, 2011
Credit: Anna Williams

A Symbolic Gift

In the Jewish tradition of hachnasset orchim (welcoming the stranger), the gift of salt recalls the sacrifices made in ancient temples and signifies that our homes are indeed "small sanctuaries," while candles ensure that light always pervades the house. Take inspiration, and add your own: Flour symbolizes the hope of plenty; sugar evokes the sweetness of life; a broom sweeps away the old to make way for the new.

Welcome Home

In a scene from Frank Capra's 1946 film, "It's A Wonderful Life," Mary And George Bailey (Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart) welcome the Martini family to their new home with three symbolic gifts and a brief, heartfelt speech. "Bread, that this house may never know hunger," they say. "Salt, that life may always have flavor. And wine, that joy and prosperity may reign forever."

It's just a tiny scene, but it captures a universal moment. Giving a gift to new neighbors or close friends who have moved is a custom that spans centuries and cultures. Judaism has a tradition of welcoming strangers (as explained above) that dates back to the time of Abraham.

When the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth, Wampanoag Indians brought them much-needed deer meat and beaver skins. In the case of new neighbors, gift giving is a simple way to establish good relations. And for friends who have moved, a housewarming gift is an important show of support during what can be a stressful time.

There are a few common-sense guidelines to follow when presenting housewarming gifts. For instance, when a gift includes perishables, make sure to deliver it directly to the intended recipient -- if you leave it on the porch or in the mailbox, your gift could end up spoiled. If you are giving food in a container that you would like returned, put your name on a piece of masking tape on its underside. This will encourage a return visit from your new neighbors and will also help them to remember your name.

Generally, gifts to new neighbors should be practical and inexpensive; keepsakes for departing friends may cost a little more and can be more personal. But no matter whom you are welcoming with a gift, finding a balance between the practical and the pleasing will make a new house very warm indeed.

Gracious Gifts

Thoughtful Tips

Comments (1)

January 2, 2009
In my part of the UK, we have a tradition of 'First footing' on New Year's Day, where the first person over the threshold in the New Year brings symbolic items to bring health (salt), wealth (money),