Giving a food basket as a housewarming gift is a safe bet, they are sure to be appreciated and can be as economical or as expensive as you like. Fill them with a bottle of wine, sweet treats and homemade preserves…whatever you like!
However…did you know that there are certain food items that have a special meaning and intended blessing for the recipient?
The intention then (and now) was to congratulate the new homeowners (who years ago would have been newlyweds) and to fill their new home with well wishes, good health and prosperity.
I’ve done some research and some say these traditional gifts are rooted in Jewish custom, while others say Italian, German, Irish, Russian. In other words, there’s no consensus.
I think it’s safe to say they each started in the “old country” (Europe) and have carried over to the new (America).
It’s a practice that has carried on from one generation to the next, for exactly how long? Who knows but it’s certainly been a few hundred years.
But what exactly do these things mean or what do they symbolize? Here are over a dozen items that are traditionally given to new homeowners and make a perfect present to bring to a housewarming party.
You’ll notice the common running theme can be summarized as “Good Luck” or “Best Wishes”, but there’s actually a more heartfelt intention behind each of them.
Traditional Housewarming Gifts & What They Symbolize
If you’ve ever wondered why an item was given and what the meaning behind it is, this is the handy reference list for you!
- Bread: “So that this house may never know hunger”…or…”So your cupboards will always be full”
- Salt: Given with the message “That life may always have flavor”, can also represent added luxury or flavor to life
- Sugar: Means “So your life shall always have sweetness”
- Wine: Symbolizes the hope “That joy and prosperity may reign forever”…or…”That your family will never be thirsty”…or…”So you will always be of good cheer”
- Honey: “So that you may always enjoy the sweetness of life”
- Broom: “So your home may always be clean” or “To help sweep away any evil and bad luck”
- Coin: “So you may dwell in good fortune”
- Candle: “So that this house will always have light” or “So you may dwell in light and happiness”
- Olive Oil: “May you be blessed with health and well being” or “For a full lamp so that you may always have light in the home”
- Wood: “May your home have stability and peace”
- Houseplant: “May your home always have life” (see note below for a good luck option)
You can give one or two from the list above or fill a basket with all of them. Make each a little more special by wrapping in ribbon or raffia, cover jar lids with fabric or lace. Tuck in a handwritten note with the meaning of each item given.
Ideas for the broom: I found sweet little handmade straw brooms on Etsy. Do a search for “straw whisk brushes” or “kitchen broom set” to find a bunch of gift-worthy options. I purchased some for my own kitchen and they are well worth the extra money (or you can buy small whisks at the dollar store, those would work too).
For wood: A wooden spoon, rolling pin, cutting board, muddler for drinks or a spurtle for cooking. For gift-worthy handmade items, again…check Etsy. There are plenty of gorgeous options.
Ideas for coins: You can toss in a sweet little money bag or coin purse filled with local currency, or check your local bank for some foreign currency options (especially nice for travelers). Also pawn shops may have some old collectible coins that aren’t too pricey.
Ideas for candles: Any candle will do, but what about something a little extra special? Maybe hand paint a lovely design on a pair of beeswax tapers…or if it’s for a family who celebrates Easter each year, design a special Paschal candle they can use in their Easter basket year after year. Also a real bayberry candle is another option for Christmas Eve.
For bread: Any loaf will do (Italian, French, Focaccia), but why not also include a sourdough or Amish friendship starter?
Wine suggestion for non-drinkers: For those friends who aren’t much for drinking wine or alcohol, a cooking wine is one idea. I’ve seen small little bottles (about 8 oz) of Cabernet Sauvignon that would work perfectly for this since it’s ideal for cooking. There’s also Shaoxing cooking wine that’s a staple ingredient for Chinese cuisine.
Houseplant recommendation: Lucky Bamboo. This is a popular present for loved ones within the Asian culture and is an easy to care for plant. The fun thing about it is the symbolism of the number of stalks in the arrangement that recipients will surely love (ie. 1 = Simple Life; 6 = Health, Happiness, Harmony; etc.). You’ll find all the details on this page with an introduction to Lucky Bamboo and growing tips.