Aaah, the joys of a housewarming party: A chance to show-off your new digs, to appreciative – and appreciated – oooh’s and aaah’s of eager guests; the perfect opportunity for some quality time with family and friends, and maybe even an enemy or two (you may want to turn them green with envy, after all. Insert mischievous laugh here.); and a good excuse to eat and drink (unless, of course, you are the designated driver) a little too much despite the lack of a major holiday. Oh, and let’s not forget: The presents! Yippee for presents!
Cold weather and evil spirits: the unwanted guests
Looking back at its origins, the tradition of housewarming had rather humble – and literal – beginnings.
It started many moons ago, back in the days when heat in the home was as much a necessity as it is today, but less of a convenience. In the absence of central heating, each neighbor and guest to a new house would bring wood for the pot-bellied stove or fireplace, to literally “warm the house.”
The birth of the much-loved housewarming tradition.
Aside from warding away the cold, the warmth of the fire was believed to create an atmosphere to ward-off evil spirits.
Uninhabited houses were perceived a dwelling place for vagrant spirits; as such, the house was thoroughly cleaned prior to moving in. A warm atmosphere was considered vital in repelling these spirits, preventing them from returning.
Hanging the chimney hook
In France, housewarming is rooted in the tradition of Pendaison de crémaillère, or “hanging the chimney hook.”
During the medieval times, it was common practice to invite all the workers involved in the building of the house for a meal when the construction was completed, as a way of thanking them. An interesting social experiment, I would think, if it were to be applied today.
The meal was prepared in a big pot over the fireplace; the heat of which was regulated by a chimney hook, to set the pot nearer to or further away from the heat.
This hook, which was the last item to be installed in the course of moving in, heralded the “thank you” meal, and symbolized the move into the new home.
Though housewarming parties are generally loose and free-flowing, like most other occasions, it is always best to invite your guests in advance (proper etiquette for this would be anywhere from 2 weeks to 5 days prior). It is always fun to keep the guest list interesting, but also intimate. Go for a diverse yet still closely-acquainted group whenever possible.
Although any date after moving in works for a housewarming party, the first three months are usually devoted to settling in. Most people throw one shortly after the third month, but within the 6th month of moving in.
Some people, especially in religious parts of the world where “blessing” a new home is part of tradition, choose to hold the housewarming on the same date as the house blessing; usually done by a priest, pastor, guru, or other leader of a religious sect or order.
Aside from moving into a new home, renovating or remodeling an old one may also warrant a housewarming party. After all, any excuse for bites, booze, and banter will do.
Potluck parties are acceptable, these days (especially among close friends and family), but you may want to coordinate the menu to some extent.
Gifts are not obligatory, but are part-and-parcel of the housewarming tradition. Fire logs, though no longer advisable and may very well draw the most curious of looks, may still be welcome in some bitingly-cold parts of Canada (half-meant joke).
Bearers of (traditional) gifts
Next to fire logs, frog figurines rank among the traditionally given gifts. Frogs are believed to symbolize good luck and fertility, and the semblance of these animals is usually given at weddings or housewarmings. Unless, of course, the recipient is Batrachophobic. Then you may want to skip the frogs – and any other reptile, for that matter – and stick with bluebird gifts, which are also considered lucky. Then again, there is Ornithophobia to consider…
Barring logs, frogs, and bluebirds, there are a few other traditional gift items that may be appreciated for their symbolism (and usefulness):
- Bread : To ensure the tenants will never go hungry. A nice basketful of assorted gourmet breads (accompanied, perhaps, with a bottle of jam or two) will prove to be a welcome gift
- Wine: For a cup that will always run over with prosperity. A bottle of nice Merlot, Pignon Noir, or a crisp white wine is always well-received. Among my personal favorites are the wines by Cassilero del Diablo; which are not only well-balanced, with a nice depth and body, they are relatively easy on the purse, with an interesting legend to boot.
- Salt:To give new life a touch of savor. Think nice, pink Himalayan Sea Salt; Kosher Salt, other fancy salts re-packed in glass jars. Perfect!
- Candle: To spread light and wisdom. Scented, decorative candles are a tried-and-tested favorite. A variation to this would be a nice oil-burner, with tea lights and scented oils.
- Honey: For a sweet life in a new home. There are many, gourmet variants: Truflle honey; wild or raw honey; flavored honey; among others.
- Rice: A symbol of fertility. Package in a nice jar, canister, ceramic container for that special touch.
- Broom: To sweep away evil. Functional, too.
- Olive Oil: Brings health and vitality. You don’t have to be a chef to appreciate a nice bottle of extra virgin olive oil.
- Live Plant: Symbolizes long life or residency. Small, hardy plants are best.
Food items such as apple pie, a side of bacon, and a sack of flour are also among traditional, historical gifts. You can bring a side of bacon over to my house any time. Just so we’re clear.
Hot gift items to warm a house
On a less traditional note, here are some gift suggestions that are fun to give, and even more fun to receive:
- Personalized gifts – Stationery; monogrammed towels; decorative storage boxes; your imagination’s the limit, as almost anything can be personalized, in this day and age of high-technology.
- Quirky key hanger – I adore – and still use – the one I received years ago.
- Cheese knives and cutters – Throw in an oddly-shaped cheese board, and this will be a gift that will receive much gratitude.
- A unique bottle opener or corkscrew – Loads of fun, and definitely highly-functional.
- A vintage/one-of-a-kind conversation piece – A friend gave me a mirror sourced at a vintage shop; it is unique, interesting, has a small chip, and I absolutely love it.
- Decorative or unusual table lamp, or light accent – Easy to find, these days. Stick with a piece that is neither too large, nor too outlandish.
- Beer tub – For nice, cold brews served stylishly. Need I say more?
- The gift of fun – A classic board game, party game, puzzle, card game all make wonderful gifts.
For more unique and clever gift ideas, check out Made In Canada Gift Ideas at http://o.canada.com/2012/06/04/made-in-canada-gift-ideas-under-150/.
Whatever gift you settle for, remember that the best present to warm any new home is the joy and love that can only come straight from the heart. And that is definitely cheesy enough to slice with the new cheese cutter and oddly-shaped board.