The Sweet (and Not So Sweet) Origins of the Honeymoon

wedding toast

There’s one wedding tradition that doesn’t seem like it should need much explanation: the honeymoon.  Unlike some of our other wedding traditions, which seem to happen because it feels like that’s the way it’s always been, the purpose of the honeymoon appears to make sense.  It gives the new couple some time alone together, away from the world.  That, more so than a wedding ceremony itself, seems like the perfect celebration of the start of a marriage.

But just like the wedding dress, despite the fact that there seems to be an obvious explanation for the honeymoon, its origins are somewhat different.  There are actually two differing origins for the honeymoon: one for the word itself, and one for the practice.  Let’s start with the practice.

If you think about it, because many historical weddings weren’t about romance (or if they were, they were among the peasantry, who likely couldn’t afford a vacation), there’s no real reason for the newly-wedded couple to go off alone together.  The concept started in 19th century Britain.  At that time, the couple would take a trip right after the wedding, but sometimes their friends or family would come along.  The purpose of the trip was to visit relatives who couldn’t make it to the wedding.

Although I would want to take my honeymoon alone with my husband, I like the idea of also taking a trip to visit anyone who wasn’t able to make it to the wedding.  That’s the fun origin of the honeymoon.  There’s a darker one as well.

In some very early honeymoon origins, including (but not just) Scandinavian, it involves kidnapping.  Many brides were kidnapped by their grooms.  They were then hidden away for months, until either their family stopped looking for them or they became pregnant (and thus it was considered too late for the marriage to be nullified).

The meaning of the word “honeymoon” is much more pleasant.  Its exact origin is unclear, with several cultures around the world having a word for the period after a wedding that has the word “honey” in it.  The tradition might even date back to Roman times.  In the Western tradition, the honeymoon lasted for about a month.  Not a month of the couple away on a vacation; it just referred to the first lunar month after the wedding.

At the wedding, the couple was presented with enough mead (honey wine) to last about a lunar month (this might also be one origin of the wedding toast).  The couple would drink that mead for the month following their wedding; that’s where the word comes from.  It’s literally a moon’s worth of honey.  I can get behind that idea.


*(The above image by Juan Antonio Capó is licensed by the Creative Commons 2.5 Attribution License).