Customs

The Disturbing and Decidedly-Unromantic Origin of the Honeymoon

Origin of the honeymoon

Today, the concept of a honeymoon is completely wonderful. The newly-married couple gets away for a few days of romantic bliss, making sure that their life-long commitment begins on a happy note.

It wasn’t always that way.

The word honeymoon traces its origin to the ancient Norse hjunottsmanathr or “hiding.” It described the early days of a marriage, but it was decidedly unromantic.

Some scholars trace the origin of the honeymoon back to Attila the Hun (433-453). As noted in this article, Attila wasn’t exactly the most handsome fellow in the room. Nevertheless, he always seemed to be able to sweep the ladies off their feet. We mean that quite literally. If Attila or any of his men fancied a young woman, she could very well find herself snatched by the smitten fellow and pulled forcibly onto his horse. Our expression “swept off her feet” has its origins in this practice.

As far as the prospective groom was concerned, he had just won himself a wife. He may not have captured her heart, but he had everything else. The young woman’s family, on the other hand, probably did not wholeheartedly endorse the arrangement.

Less out of a desire for a quiet, romantic getaway, and much more out of the necessity to get away from any revenge-seeking in-laws, the practice of the honeymoon was born. Once the groom had successfully abducted his bride, he would take her off into hiding, far from meddlesome family members who might raise an objection to the betrothal.

The period of hiding ended when the woman’s family gave up their search for her or when she became pregnant, thus rendering family consent to the marriage rather moot. This period of hiding typically lasted about a month. In hopes of hastening the aforesaid pregnancy, the newlyweds often ate honey during this time. Honey was believed to promote fertility. Since the length of a month was measured by the phases of the moon and the menu during this month was accentuated with honey, the term “honeymoon” flowed out of the practice. That sounds a lot less creepy and disturbing than hjunottsmanathr, which is just a polite way of saying, “I’m going to keep you hidden away until your family gives up hope of ever seeing their daughter again.” NOTE TO SELF: Research whether Hallmark has any cards for the Nordic concept of marriage.

Fortunately, marriage — and honeymoon — practices have changed from those early days. Today, the newlywed couple typically has the full consent and blessing of both families, but the “abduction” is still carried out in ritual form. The groom frequently carries the bride away from the marriage ceremony to an awaiting vehicle where they make their getaway.

It isn’t until later in the marriage that they start to think about escaping from their in-laws.


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