Estonian Housewarming Gift

Context: The folklore was collected on a scheduled Zoom meeting in which I interviewed two native Estonians who immigrated to the United States and are close friends.

Background: The informant is a 51 year-old Estonian immigrant who lives in Los Angeles. She continues to participate in Estonian traditions and is a part of the “Estonian House” which is an Estonian community that resides in LA.

Main Piece:

Informant: “When you go to visit that person in their new home you’re always bring salt and bread, always. You always bring salt and bread, its called soolaleiba pidu (salt bread party) that’s like house warming party. You bring salt and bread only when going to someone’s house for the first time, a new house.”

Collector: “Do you eat the salt with the bread or…?”

Informant: “No, no, no. You just bring it. You can either just take, like regular, like you know, this kosher salt from the shelf or nice salt mill or whatever, but in old times, people they bake like special bread where in the middle there is little hole where you put the salt. You know it’s like such a tradition. But otherwise, yeah, you just take any like salt, because you know, in a house you always need salt and bread. It came like from the old times like, you know, they believed that then the hunger will never come to the House and you can make flavorful food. Because, if you have salt, then you have flavor for food. The bread represents plentiful food for the future. Especially, like, my grandma lived in the Leningrad Seige, so, you know, they lived in hunger for three years so I remember it wasn’t accepted that we wasted food, it was like such a treasure.”

Interpretation: This tradition is a housewarming tradition in Estonia where you are essentially blessing the new house with plentiful food and resources for the future through a gift of bread and salt. The bread is what represents the food itself, and the salt is a representative of utility. It can be used to make the food more flavorful or for cleaning purposes, or even medical purposes. In my interpretation this is a way of giving new home owners good luck for the future, and food seems to be a high concern for Estonians. This is likely because Estonia does have harsh climate during winter, so it makes sense that bread would be the first thing that you use to bless a new home. Furthermore, Estonian culture reflects simplicity as opposed to opulence and grandeur. Bread and salt are simple and effective housewarming gifts that fit right into the themes of Estonian culture and tradition, you will rarely see over-the-top, glamorous gifts being given between Estonians. This has its roots in Estonia’s history of slavery, persecution, and communism.