Bread And Salt Custom (khleb i sol')

The "bread and salt" was a traditional Russian ceremony of welcome. It originated as a folk custom in western Russia. As a sign of hospitality, when the emperor or empress visited their towns, merchants and gentry would present a loaf of bread placed on a round dish covered with an embroidered towel. A cellar of salt was placed on top of the bread or set in a hole cut into the top of the bread. The ceremony also was used prior to the marriage of a landowner when he traveled to each village on his estate, introducing his new bride to the peasants. The ceremony symbolized that the couple would never be without the necessities of life.

The tradition still is practiced, both in Russia (occasionally at weddings) and by descendants of Russians living in other countries (bread and salt is brought to a family member or friend when they move into a new home). It is interesting to note that upon his return to Russia on May 27, 1994, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was greeted with the traditional bread and salt.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, bread and salt were presented to the imperial family. The early platters and cellars and those used by the peasants were predominately carved from wood. Later, the ones used by the nobility were of elaborately gilded silver and enamel.

Bread and salt represented the hospitality of folk isolated far from one another in a large country. This hospitality was legendary in Russia, and very similar to that known in the old West in the United States.

Source: Treasures of the Czars education guide by Janet Root.

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