Why Bread, Wine, Salt?


Mary Bailey: Bread so that this house may never know hunger. Salt so that life may always have flavor.
George Bailey: Wine that joy and prosperity may reign forever.
Bread, Salt and Wine are traditional housewarming gifts.  We all know this because we've seen "It's a Wonderful Life." Perhaps some of us assumed that it exists because of "It's a Wonderful Life."  But the tradition goes back to a time before Frank Capra, and it's a lovely idea, one I'm in favor of keeping alive.

Depending on who you ask, the tradition is either Russian, Polish, Jewish, or Italian, unless it's Lithuanian, or something else.  Of course it's possible, that similar traditions grew up in different places.  Many cultures value bread, salt and wine.

It was a Russian folk custom for local merchants to present the gift of a round loaf of bread covered in salt to the visiting emperor as a sign of hospitality. In many cultures bread, salt and wine are given to newlyweds so that they would always have the necessities of life. The wine, bread and salt may also represent joy, work and sorrow as the three elements of a couple's life together.Bread, wine and salt were necessary to a meal, so bringing those items made the visit into a party. In German tradition, bread and salt may be carried by a bride to symbolize a good harvest and by extension, of fertility.
"The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight." M.F.K. Fisher
Bread is a nourishing, comforting food that stretches a bit of meat and a bit of vegetable into a meal.  We talk about "breaking bread" with people and we mean that we are sitting down to fellowship. The smell of baking bread  The shared meal, either real or symbolic, is still an important part of Jewish and Christian tradition. If you Google the terms "bread life" you get "about 390,000,000 results."
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Matthew 5:13
Salt, taken for granted today because it we are overrun with it, is necessary for life. Our cells use sodium and chlorine and we can't function without it. In ancient times when salt had to be painstakingly harvested and then carefully kept so that it wouldn't go bad. Sea salt, remember, isn't pure sodium chloride. If it got wet, the sodium could be washed away leaving other minerals that weren't salt at all. The salt could also go rancid. The spoiled salt would be spread on the fields in hope that the sodium that was left would be absorbed by the plants that grew there.  Salt, therefore, was precious and valuable

Today, of course, there is a salt mania. We use table salt, sea salt, pink salt, grey salt. People serve food on blocks of salt. Some chefs insist on a certain type of sea salt. If you're looking to give a gift of salt there are plenty of choices beyond a carton of Morton's. (Although, under the right circumstances a simple carton of table salt might be the perfect gift.) At the same time, we are told to eat less of it, much less. Most of the salt in our diets comes from processed foods. If we prepared food from fresh ingredients and then added salt to taste we'd cut back on our salt intake significantly, and could enjoy salt without fretting.
"Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough, A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse - and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness And Wilderness is Paradise enow." Omar Khayyam
Wine barely needs justification. In Jewish tradition the wine is necessary for Kiddush prayers to sanctify the Sabbath. Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana. Even in the most secular of contexts, a bottle of wine elevates a simple meal to a special occasion

There are some other traditional gifts for newlyweds or a new home.  A new broom is said to help sweep your troubles away and bring good luck and harmony to a home. You should never take an old broom to a new home, apparently the broom gets attached to its old home. Sugar may be given so that life will always have sweetness. A candle ensures that the home will always have light.

Whatever your culture, (homemade) bread, salt and wine do make a party, and giving gifts that symbolize plenty is a lovely way of supporting people starting a new part of their lives, either a new marriage or a new home, or any other fresh start.  And if you're wondering why this blog is called Bread, Wine, Salt and not Bread, Salt, Wine, it's because I just like it better that way.

Resources:
About.com Judaism
Chowhound: : Wedding Toast for Wine, Salt and Bread
German Wedding Traditions
Just a Mere Tree Farm
Kosher Gift Box
Polish American Center
Salt and light. Precious and bright. Necessary and powerful. The Rev. Lauren Stanley

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