The tradition of welcoming friends and family in your new home is a moment of pride and triumph often preceded by the stress of moving. Throwing a housewarming is a milestone that allows you to enjoy the fruits of your labour and create new, happy memories within your new walls. The practice comes from medieval times; before central heating existed, fires were lit using firewood brought from guests, literally warming a home.
This practice was also believed to fend off evil spirits by an atmosphere of warmth. Back in those days, it was believed that uninhabited houses were like a magnet for evil spirits, and therefore needed to be cleansed before even welcoming children into the home. Around the world, the convention of hosting a housewarming may be universal, but the traditions and superstitions observed to mark the occasion differ from coast to coast. Here we explore the practices of housewarmings from around the world and appropriate gifts to bring to honour your host.
Like most of the world, in Japan, gifts are customary for housewarmings. While those who recently moved may receive a gift, it is also expected that the newcomers share a small token of gratitude with their new neighbours. The present must be humble in nature, such as a tea towel or rice. Anything more significant would result in the gift being reciprocated. This gesture is a way to meet the community and build roots within them.
When attending a housewarming in Scandinavia, there are 4 traditional gifts you can honour your host with. Bread to ensure no one goes hungry, salt so that life is always flavourful, wine to bring joy and light to brighten the dark winter months. The first two, bread and salt, is said to be a Russian tradition that had spread globally and even to outer space when astronauts first made the International Space Station home.
On the day of a housewarming, it is customary to boil a pot of milk and rice on the stove and purposefully allow the heat to make it overflow. This tradition is said to bring an abundance of wealth, food and prosperity into the home, so don’t be alarmed if you enter a new home and find the stove bubbling away. Consider bringing gifts that maximise good luck, like wind chimes or an elaborate candle holder, which can be used as decoration during Diwali. Avoid presents like statues of gods or goddesses, sharp objects or towel sets.
To rid your home of any negative energy, feng shui dictates that you must harmonise your environment by ringing a bell.This adds positive energy to the house and chases out stagnant chi. Opening windows and letting sunlight in is also an auspicious way to mark the occasion.If you’re lucky enough to be invited to a Tibetan housewarming, consider gifts of a practical nature like money. However, be sure never to gift money in even amounts as this is deemed bad etiquette. Food is also an appropriate present, like a hamper filled with butter, cheese and fruits.
Thai housewarming traditions are a more elaborate affair. It requires an odd number of Buddhist monks to enter your home, as even numbers are thought to be unlucky. The monks will then bless your home using a holy thread, looping around your waist and onto the wrist of family members. This is thought to be good luck. At a Thai housewarming, cash gifts are favourable, thought to wish good fortune on the family for years to come. In return, you’ll be treated to an informal meal of classic Thai dishes, which you can also gift to your host. Home-made sticky rice dessert, coconut soup or pad thai are all appropriate dishes to bring.
Bring a broom when attending a housewarming in Italy. Rather than a not-so-subtle way to say clean up, it is believed that a new broom signifies sweeping out the old and embracing the new. It is actually considered bad luck in China to bring an old broom to a new home, as it symbolises carrying old burdens along with you, but not in Italy! Alternatively, a bottle of olive oil is a great way to wish the new homeowners good health or some salt, which is believed to bring good luck when a pinch of it is placed on the threshold of each door.
Housewarming presents in Korea take on amore practical nature: the gift of toilet paper. A popular gift as it signifiesprosperity, the longer the roll, the better. This tradition goes back to whentoilet paper was considered expensive and not a luxury that everyone couldafford. Alternatively, laundry detergent or a new plant are considered luckyand symbolise prosperity. Opt for a snake plant which is low maintenance andthrives in any condition.
In many French-speaking countries, they mark a housewarming with ‘the changing of the chimney hook’ - ‘pendaison de crémaillère’. This refers to placing a hook above the fire where the cooking pot would hang, often the last piece of the home to be put in place. Those who helped build the house would be graciously invited over for a meal as a thank you. While the phrase is still used in modern times, it simply refers to feeding loved ones a hearty meal.
Scattering coins for prosperity is a Filipino housewarming tradition. It should be done in every room and corner of the home for maximum effect. As a gift, you can bring flowers, candy or chocolate, but avoid bringing any heavier foods or alcohol, as this may imply that their hospitality is inadequate unless it is described as a potluck party. If the home you are visiting is that of newlyweds, consider gifting the couple a present they can actually use in their new home, like pots and pans, plates or a blanket.
“The light is what guides you home, the warmth is what keeps you there.” – Ellie Rodriguez