Providing an offering of bread is a timeless gesture, a ritual of hospitality going back thousands of years. It's easy to spot a common version of this even today when you sit down at a restaurant and receive a basket of bread at the table.
Where does it come from?
The tradition of bread and salt presented at wedding ceremonies and receptions has a specific history in the customs of Eastern European countries from the Baltics to the Balkans, especially nations with Slavic roots and their neighbors. It seems to show up most often in Poland, Germany, Russia, Lithuania, and Ukraine. Versions of the ritual can also be found in Jewish, Arab, and Persian cultures. It's a custom known by different names depending on the region.
What does it mean?
Bread symbolizes hospitality and is a statement of welcome. Salt symbolizes wealth, simply because it was one of the most precious and expensive products at the time of the tradition's inception, likely hundreds of years ago. Still, this ritual can be seen as an all-purpose unity ritual indicating trust and coming together, not just hospitality and wealth, and it is not confined strictly to weddings.
How is it included in a wedding ceremony?
A typical presentation of the bread and salt custom involves taking a piece from a large, round bread loaf and dipping it into a small dish of salt, followed by an optional drink of wine. It's not clear what the wine symbolizes, but it definitely helps wash it all down!
Usually at the end of the wedding ceremony or during the reception, the couple will be approached by their parents who will offer the bread with salt. In this way, the parents are welcoming the couple into their family. Often, the couple will then break onto the floor any glass and plates used to present the offering. This is a fun and slightly hazardous way to symbolize breaking into a new stage of life, the start of a new chapter as a couple.
Another version of the ceremony involves each partner taking the biggest bite they can from a single loaf of bread at the altar. Whoever takes the biggest bite, supposedly, "wears the pants" i.e. is considered the head of the household. Our recommendation? Insist it was close enough, and call it a draw.