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.
As short and simple as this was, this aticle was very informative. I will be adding the little explanations on gift notes….
Very good information. It was exactly what I was looking for. Thank you!
Perfect just what I was looking for
Perfect, just the info. I was looking for.
Thank you. It was very informative and timely coz my niece is having a house warming ceremony and I’m gifting the above. Thank you once again.
Great refreshers for a glitchy memory. Thanks!
After reading this list, purchased items and am on my way to the new neighbor’s house warming party. Am including the list!
Perfect . thanks so much
Thank you! Just what I was looking for too!
just the info i was looking for!
I’m italian and my mother always said that when you move into a new home, you give bread (so you would never go hungry), salt (so your food always tastes good), a broom (to sweep away evil) and oil. I never found out what the oil was for so if anyone knows, please comment.
Oil is a blessing of health and well being.
Health,Light and to keep your husband faithful.
Olive oil is for them to be blessed with good health and well being
The oil may be for the lamp so that there will always be light in the home.
GREAT. I finally found what my mom and dad gave me the day they were so proud my husband and I got our first and only home. My son soon will have his first and I know exactly what I need …thank you..
Thank you! When we bought our first home 20 years ago these items were give to us but I couldn’t remember what they meant. Now I know & can pass along the tradition!
Good stuff. I wonder about the history of these House-warming gifts. This is not the first time I have given bread, salt and wine to a new home owner. I’d love to know how this tradition started. -whatever- Thanks
Thank you very much, I was looking for a welcoming gift for my brother’s German bf who’d soon to be joining us in the UK. This isnt exsactly what I was after but is just the right side of a trifitional gesture I was looking for
I have been giving these items in a basket to friends & family for a few years now. I always refresh my memory with your website. Thank you!!
Just what I needed and more. I only heard about the wine,bread,broom. The other items were great, now I can fill the basket. Thank you.
I remember this traditional house warming tradition from It’s A Wonderful Life whenever someone bought a new home from the building and loan. The Baileys would present them with this tradition. I always thought it was cool
especially coming from Jimmie Stewart and Donna Reid.
Thanks so much! I have been looking for this.
This is for my granddaughter moving into her first home.I would like to know what the oil, flour and rice represent
Olive Oil = May you be blessed with health and well-being.
Re the oil: Found this on another site: “May you be blessed with health and well-being.”
Thank you so much
Love this just not the wine, is there something else and the meaning?
Very helpful! A lot of us guys don’t seem to know these types of things.
What a nice website you have. Thank you for sharing such a great idea on being kind to friends and family.
Wasn’t there a piece of “string” to keep the family together ? “salt” so your land may bless you with plentiful crops”. Beside the bread, Sugar.
I thought there was a knife also??? Anyone remember that
I thought the knife was not recommended as it cuts friendships?