What’s the best gift you’ve ever been given? Money? Jewelry? Clothing? A car? A house or other object? Unfortunately gifts today are usually valued economically and not intrinsically or sentimentally.
Even when we put serious effort into finding just the right gift, it’s almost always about perceived economic or practical value. With the exception of Christmas and birthdays, most gifts are given because we want to, not because we feel obligated.
But, when we give out of a spirit of generosity and kindness, shouldn’t the act of giving also include an element of symbolism? An expression of our wish or hope as the gift giver? We think so, and apparently Hallmark does too, or the gift card business wouldn’t be alive and well.
The practice of gift giving is as old as society itself. To give a gift or present is to offer or transfer something without the expectation of payment. While gifts are meant to be free, they are often given with the expectation of reciprocity.
More importantly the act of giving a gift has always been for the primary purpose of strengthening or solidifying a relationship – not for transferring something of economic value. Even if the relationship was with your enemy it is customary to come bearing a gift or gifts to any negotiation as a gesture of goodwill.
While the use of money has been in existence for thousands of years, salt earned its place as one of the most valuable commodities available to the common man. Most debts or obligations could be paid in salt. With salt, any food could be preserved or seasoned and that made it something that everyone needed.
So, when one gave a gift of salt, it was recognized as a gift of value, not just economically, but also intrinsically and even sentimentally. Why? Because the salt was seen not only for its economic value, but also for what it represented. The ability to preserve or prevent corruption or decay, it was also a symbol of good health.
More than that, some agreements and promises were sealed by a salt covenant. Each party to the agreement would take a pinch of salt from their salt-pouch and place it in the salt-pouch of the other person(s) who were party to the agreement. This singular act was symbolically binding. Each party acknowledged that the agreement could only be broken if each person could retrieve their own grains of salt out of the others pouch.
As a result of using salt to seal promises and agreements, the practice of giving salt as a house-warming gift or to a newly married couple also became commonplace. This was as much because of the symbolism as for the practical value of the salt itself.
Sadly, we’ve gotten away from the idea of salt as a gift because it seems so plentiful. However, that’s not really true. Unrefined salt isn’t plentiful. We often deal with shortages and must plan around seasonal fluctuations of availability to maintain our consistent offering. We already know that there is a lot of refined salt in the world, but that stuff’s not even worth… it’s salt!
Unrefined salt is a gift to be treasured, not only for its economic value, but for its symbolism as well. Giving a gift of salt expresses your wish for your relationship with the other part to be preserved, symbolizing permanence and stability.
Maybe you remember the scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” where the loaf of bread, bottle of wine and salt are given as a house-warming gift? Mary and George Bailey explain the symbolism of their gift of these three items. In the case of a newly married couple, giving the gift of salt also says your wish is that their relationship be preserved and endure.
Granted, it’s also a practical gift that can be used to help improve daily life as well as acknowledged by Mary Bailey when she said, “salt so that life may have flavor.” And, for those who are petty enough to keep track of how much you spent on them, good quality unrefined salt is a gift worth giving.
So the next time you are looking for a gift for a dear friend, or relative, husband, wife, son or daughter, give them a gift that symbolizes the reason for giving and accurately reflects your true feelings. Give them the gift of salt!
If you are looking for salt-based gift ideas, our web store is a great place to start!