Tag Archives: gift giving

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.

Estonian Wallet Gifting

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.

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.

Main Piece: “When you give a wallet as a gift to someone, we believed to never give an empty wallet. Always put a little bit of money in it. Like even if it’s a couple of coins. You know for obvious reasons, because then more money will come in.”

Interpretation: This Estonian gift-giving superstition is another way of ensuring good luck for the future. Many of the Estonian gift-giving superstitions I am aware of deal heavily with good luck in the future when it comes to some form of material item. Insecurity it comes to money and food are both things that Estonians seem to be worried about from the various gift-giving customs I have been told about. However, this makes complete sense because Estonia is in no way known for a history of wealth and prosperity. Estonian history is one of subjugation and conquer. This is why many Estonian superstitions reflect an anxiety surrounding whether or not there will be plentiful food or money in the future.

Flower Gifting Custom in Estonia

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.

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.

Main Piece:

Informant: “So I remember a couple of things, for example, like you know about gifting I was telling you are already about the flowers that they’ll never give like you know equal amount of plumes. Always give an odd like three plumes. I mean here in America, there are big bouquets always here, but in Estonia, we have like let’s say I’m getting three roses or five roses or, you know, nine tulips.

The informant later explained that you do not give someone an even number of flowers at a wedding or other celebratory gathering, because even numbers of flowers are associated with funerals in Estonian culture.

Interpretation: It seems that flower gifting is quite prominent in Estonian tradition and the number of flowers that one gifts is extremely significant. Because I was unaware of this tradition, I decided to do a little more research. I found that gifting someone a single flower is a sign of love. So, for example, you would gift a loved one a single flower or give someone a flower during a date. However, if you gave that person a big bouquet of flowers that contained twelve flowers (or another even number) that would be seen as somewhat shocking to the recipient as even amounts of flowers tend to be given when mourning the death of a loved one during a funeral. It is quite interesting that Estonians associate different meanings with the number of flowers that one gifts. I am not aware of exactly why even numbers of flowers are associated with funerals, but nonetheless an intriguing gift giving tradition.

Broken Ceramic, Broken Hearts

Context

This was an incident that occurred during my cousin’s wedding that caused quite a bit of argument within the family. ‘Jie’ refers to my older sister. The interview is with my mother as I get her to recount the incident.

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Performance

The following is transcribed from a conversation between me, (M), and my mother, the interviewee (I).

M: Do you remember the time you got really upset at jie about the gift she tried to give Dixie?

I: Yes that was really bad.

M: Can you tell me about the gift and why you were so upset?

I: She tried to give Dixie a pair of ceramic cups that she had made as a wedding gift. But! One of the cups had a crack in it. I told her to either remake it or don’t give it at all. Because it’s bad luck in Chinese tradition to give something that is broken on her wedding. And you know Dixie, she is superstitious, and you cannot do that during a wedding.

M: What ended up happening to the gift?

I: Your jie still insisted on giving it so I had to hide it during the wedding itself and not give it to Dixie. You cannot do things like that, especially at a Wedding.

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Analysis

I remember very clearly this being a huge moment of contention between my mother and sister. My sister had put in days of work in order to create something homemade and special for our favorite cousin on her wedding day, and my mother seeing the broken ceramic cup and refusing to let my sister gift it on the wedding day. I think this shows how superstition across generations can change and how it can create moments of tension. While my sister was not a superstitious person, my mother was and she knew that my cousin was as well and thus could not allow such a gift to be given. It was also a reflection of the family and my mother felt that it would’ve reflected badly on her if she had allowed such a gift to be giving by her own daughter. The superstition comes from Chinese beliefs where everything must be seen as auspicious. From the color red that must be present everywhere on the wedding day, to the multitudes of rituals of tea pouring that must be done in the correct order.

Christmas Chimney

Main Piece:

This is the transcription of an interview I had with the informant about her Christmas traditions. 

“So my dad’s grandma, my great-grandma, she made us this chimney. Like out of wood. And we put it on the dining room table on Christmas Eve. My mom is always in charge of it. And she puts tiny gifts like pencils or a piece of candy in the thing, like in the chimney. Then there’s a ribbon that’s attached to each gift that has a name of a family member on it. There’s one for each of us. And then after Christmas Eve Mass we come back and have dinner and stuff and after dinner we get to pull the string with our name. So it’s like the first gift of Christmas”

Background:

The informant comes from a very tight-knit family. She grew up near all her extended family. Her great-grandmother is of Eastern European descent. 

Context:

I was talking to the informant about traditions that make her think of family and this was one of the first she told me.

Thoughts:

The holidays produce a lot of traditions and customs important to families. This “first gift” of Christmas often mirrors what is discussed during Christmas Mass from the gift of Jesus’s birth to the gifts the Wise Men bring to the child. This provides a small tradition the family can do to physically celebrate the holiday in a way that combines the Santa ideas of Christmas as well as the biblical meaning.