A Broom and Salt as Housewarming Presents

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 53
Occupation: Attorney
Residence: Baltimore, MD
Date of Performance/Collection: May 2, 2021
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main piece: If you move into a new house, you have to take a broom and salt. The salt is so that there’s no tears or unhappiness in the house, and the broom is because you need a clean broom for your new house. My mother-in-law bought me a broom, and she said you don’t want to bring some old dirty broom into your house, and bring the dirt from the old house into the new house. You should have a new broom. 

Background: My informant is a fifty-three year old Jewish woman from Los Angeles, California. Her mother-in-law is a seventy-nine year old Jewish woman from Baltimore, Maryland. She describes herself as a follower of “bubbe-meises” (Yiddish), translated to “grandmother’s fables”, or a more serious version of old wive’s tales that are often accompanied by superstitions. 

Context: There was a discussion of house-warming parties and traditions. My informant, who never had a house-warming party when she moved into her first house with her husband, offered this tradition. While she and her husband had lived together before they were married, they moved cities and into their first house (previously they had lived in an apartment) a little over a year after their wedding. 

Analysis: Moving into a first home with one’s spouse has historically been a momentous and tense situation. In the past, moving into a first home with one’s new husband marks the first time the woman/bride has left her family’s house, and there is the expectation that she will be the one to clean/provide the upkeep on the home, doing most (if not all) of the cooking and cleaning. In Judaism, salt is historically used as a preservative for food, in cooking as a seasoning, and a way to help disinfect wounds, all jobs that would historically have been associated with the wife. The broom, too, would be used by her to help clean the house, and, especially had this been her first home, she may have shared a broom with her mother doing chores at her family home, but wouldn’t have brought that with her when she got married. Additionally, marriage (especially for brides) creates the opportunity for a clean slate, moving fully from the sphere of the family’s home into an adult life, and she wouldn’t use the broom in her father’s house that she would in her husband’s. Although my informant is the primary provider in her marriage, and she and her husband share household responsibilities, the tradition of a mother-in-law giving the new bride a broom and salt to help take care of her son still remained. Additionally, the mother-in-law in question did take care of the household in her own marriage. My informant, despite the misogynistic historical connotations provided with the gift of a new broom and salt, did not find the gift at all offensive, in fact she informed me that she still uses the broom to this day (twenty or so years after it was first given). Whether this is because there was a gap in the amount of time the gift was given (this was not a bridal present, but rather a house-warming one several months after her marriage), or because she understood that it was a tradition, it is unclear.