Bread and salt: what do the Russians talk about?

Bread and salt

Many foreigners coming to Russia are greeted with a strange custom: they are greeted with bread and salt. However, this gesture is actually an ancient Russian tradition of welcoming important guests. Let’s take a look at the meaning behind this ritual.


Why the bread and salt 

In Russia, dear guests are traditionally welcomed with bread and salt. The guest must break off bread apiece, dip it in salt and eat it. The welcoming guests with bread and salt custom has been known in Russia for ages. The salt and bread combination plays a very capacious symbol role: bread expresses a wish for wealth and prosperity, and salt is believed to protect people from evil spirits and hostile influences. By offering bread and salt to a guest, the host sought to establish love and trust a relationship with the guest, and refusing to taste the bread and salt was considered an insult.

Word хлебосольство/ hospitality (the хлеб/bread and соль/salt combination) still means hospitality, i.e., the kindness and generosity shown when treating a guest. In the XVI century it was the Russian sovereign’s custom to give guests bread and salt from their table: the bread was supposed to express benevolence, and the salt to express love.

The expression “bread and salt” was considered a generic name for food and refreshment. And if you were called for bread and salt, it meant an invitation to a feast. The Old Russian wishing way

Приятного аппетита! / enjoy your meal!sounded like Хлеб да соль! / Bread and salt!. The phrase was believed to have special significance and to have the power to ward off evil spirits and evil in general.

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Bread and salt in modern traditions 

The offering bread and salt to dear guests’ tradition is less common today. But there are still occasions when this ritual is considered obligatory. It is most often seen at traditional Russian weddings, when newlyweds’ parents greet their children with bread and salt after the main ceremony: husband and wife should break bread off a piece, dip it in salt and feed it to each other. This is a sign that they are ready to share life’s difficulties all and promise to always look after each other.

At weddings, not just bread is served, but каравай – round bread with traditional decorations made from the same dough as the loaf itself. Spikes mean wealth, swans mean fidelity and plaits mean fertility. The loaf is served to the newlyweds on a рушник (an embroidered decorative towel), and a salt pot with salt is placed in the loaf centre.

The bread and salt importance and the Russian language

Bread and salt as foodstuffs were important to the Russian people. A meal without bread was considered incomplete, the bread and milk combination, for example, was already enough to eat. Salt in Russia was a difficult and expensive product, it was valued and cherished. The value of bread and salt is reflected in the language, in proverbs and sayings:

Bread and salt
  • Хлеб-соль ешь, а правду говори. — Eat bread and salt but tell the truth.
  • Хлеб да соль вашему дому! — Well-being and prosperity to your home!
  • Хлеб-соль кушай, а добрых людей слушай. — Eat your bread and salt, and listen to the good people.
  • Хлеба ни куска — и в горнице тоска. — There is not bread a piece and there is a longing in the room.
  • Хлебу — мера, деньгам — счет. — Bread is measured, money is counted.
  • Без соли не вкусно, без хлеба не сытно. — It’s not good without salt and it’s not nourishing without bread.
  • Без соли и стол кривой. — Without salt, the table is crooked.
  • Без соли, без хлеба – половина обеда. — There’s half a meal without bread and salt.
  • Друга узнать – вместе пуд соли съесть. — Before you make a friend eat salt a bushel with him.

Now, if you are welcomed with bread and salt, you will know that you are being treated as a very special guest and that you should share the meal with your hosts, thus expressing your respect.

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