Broom & Salt Housewarming Traditions

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Moving into a new home has always been a significant event. It signals a new phase in life for many people, and there are many traditions associated with it that are still powerful today. Giving a housewarming gift to a new neighbor or to family and friends moving into a new place will remind them of the occasion's significance. Giving a broom and some salt as a housewarming gift has roots in ancient ritual.

1 Origins of the Salt Tradition

Giving salt comes from a Jewish tradition called "hachnasset orchim," which means "welcoming the stranger." There is a strong tradition of hospitality in the Middle East (where the Jews originated); the salt symbolizes the status of the home as a sanctuary.

2 The Role of "It's a Wonderful Life."

A more modern manifestation of this type of ritual appears in the classic Christmas movie "It's a Wonderful Life," where the family is welcomed to their new home with bread, salt, and wine. This secular version of the ritual is very common in modern North American and European society. With the film having been seen by so many people, it may be partially responsible for the common use of bread, salt, and wine for modern housewarmings. This is an old tradition with no one source.

3 The Meanings of the Salt

While the traditional Jewish ritual emphasizes the connection with the ancient Jewish temple and the sanctuary offered there, it is more common to hear salt invoked as something that will ensure that life in the home always has spice or flavor. In many cases, the first visitor to cross the threshold of the house brings the salt, but both this ritual and the symbolic meaning of the salt are open to creative interpretation by those who engage in it. The origin of these traditions is unknown, though given their similarity to the Jewish tradition, they may be versions of it, stripped of religious meaning.

4 The Meaning of the Broom

Brooms are very common housewarming gifts; they always symbolize the act of cleaning. What is being swept, though, is open to interpretation. Some people would say that a broom sweeps out the old to make way for the new, while folklore has it that a broom sweeps away troubles or evil. There is no clear origin for the different meanings invoked for the broom; different cultures account for them differently.

Joshua Smyth started writing in 2003 and is based in St. John's, Newfoundland. He has written for the award-winning "Cord Weekly" and for "Blueprint Magazine" in Waterloo, Ontario, where he spent a year as editor-in-chief. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science and economics from Wilfrid Laurier University.