Russian ceremony of welcome  

I have lived in USSR for 12 years. I visited Russia in 2007 for 2 months after 23 years.
Many often ask me what is the background story of 'bread and salt' - a Russian ceremony of welcome.

Based on what I know and inputs from Internet I have tried to explain the history of this custom.

The "bread and salt" was a traditional Russian ceremony of welcome. It originated as a folk custom in western Russia.

The tradition gave rise to the Russian word that expresses a person's hospitality: "khlebosolny". In general, the word "bread" is associated in Russian culture with hospitality, bread being the most respected food, whereas salt is associated with long friendship, as expressed in a Russian saying "to eat a pood of salt (together with someone)". Also historically the Russian Empire had a high salt tax that made salt a very expensive and prized commodity.

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.
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.

There also is a traditional Russian greeting "Khleb da sol!" ("Bread and salt!"). The phrase is to be uttered by an arriving guest as an expression of good wish towards the host's household. It was often used by beggars as an implicit hint to be fed, therefore a mocking rhymed response is known: "Khleb da sol!" — "Yem da svoy!" ("Bread and salt!" — "I am eating and it is my own!").

Bread and salt represented the hospitality of folk isolated far from one another in a large country. This hospitality was legendary in Russia.

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