Your Sunny, Lovey-Dovey Honeymoon Has a Pretty Gloomy History

Liz Susong weighs in on the surprisingly dark tradition of honeymoons

Updated 10/05/17

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In Catalyst Wedding Co. editor Liz Susong's weekly column devoted to the feminist bride, she dives headfirst into the crazy history behind common wedding traditions we may take for granted. Liz investigates here.

Today’s honeymoons are way more about beaches, spas, and sleeping in than bride abductions, fermented honey, or waning love, as they were in the past. And for that, I think millennials deserve at least some credit. Nowadays, getting away on a little love vacation is a privilege that many couples take advantage of if they have the opportunity. But honeymoons have a gloomy history, just like many wedding traditions. When I have dark days believing humanity has surely reached its long-awaited demise, I need only recall how weird and bad weddings used to be to be reassured that humans have never been, nor will they ever be, great again.

I wish I were kidding, but wedding historian Susan Waggoner explains that the honeymoon "dates from the days of marriage by capture when, after snatching his bride, the groom swept her away to a secret location, safe from discovery by her angry kin." And there he would keep her until "the family would either give up the search or the bride would become pregnant, making all questions of her return moot." If you need to stop reading right now, top off your coffee, and ponder some things about existence, you certainly have my permission.

I have to admit that learning about the history of so many wedding traditions has really made me question human creativity as well. Across the board, once a wedding tradition was rightly deemed F-ed up and no longer awesome, humans may have altered the meaning or the practice, but the tradition itself is wildly tenacious. It’s like generation after generation has been like, "Well, if it ain’t broke..." So after marriage by capture ceased to exist, "the honeymoon abduction was practiced in ritual form." So now, the groom was taking the bride away with her family’s consent, "both sides knowing full well a handsome price would be offered and accepted once the deed was done." We are talking about sex for money, people.

Waggoner writes, "Later, it became customary for the groom to pay the father a bride price beforehand and to have a public ceremony before completing the 'abduction.'" And that right there is the story of weddings and honeymoons. So by all means, enjoy Cabo.

The word "honeymoon" itself is derived from the Scandinavian practice of drinking mead, or fermented honey, during the first month of the marriage (measured by one moon cycle) in order to improve the likelihood of conception. Like, babymoons were no joke in Scandinavia. The word also showed up in the 1500s "as a term to warn newlyweds about waning love." The message was clear: "As the moon wanes, so shall your love." And this is pretty harsh considering most couples getting married in the 1500s probably just met!

So romantic honeymoons only became possible with two bits of social progress. 1) Marriage became less transactional and more about love, and 2) industrial progress enabled travel for pleasure. Today, it’s common for couples to incorporate a bit of decompression time after the wedding, whether that takes the form of a short weekend away, a trip following the wedding, or a trip later in the year.

Taneem and her husband didn’t have the ability to take a full trip immediately following their summer wedding: "But we didn't want to spend the night after our ceremony at home doing regular stuff either. Like, would we just wake up the next day and eat regular breakfast and work? That felt anticlimactic." Instead, they drove a few hours away for a mini honeymoon, planning for a longer trip later in the year. Taneem says, "I really liked this because we got to enjoy each other’s company, relax, and celebrate right after the ceremony, plus we got to extend our celebration to the winter for our more 'traditional' honeymoon."

Dawn and her husband actually chose to have their "honeymoon" prior to the wedding as a way to prepare for their marriage: "Before we had our ceremony here in the U.S., we took two months to backpack through southern Africa. We figured if we could make it through long bus rides, random hostels, and not really knowing what the next day would hold, we could make it through anything." This ended up being exactly what they needed: "We always reflect back and think about how it was one of the best things we ever did for us, as we learned so much about each other and had a ridiculous amount of fun together." Other couples choose to package their weddings and honeymoons into one by having destination weddings, which was actually a necessity for many same-sex couples before the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Tips for your honeymoon? Erika Swift, a wedding planner in Phoenix, offers a bit of wisdom: "Get naked a lot. Eat at all the tourist hot spots. Do all the hotel sex you can. Leave your phone on silent. Upload pictures after you get home. Enjoy each other!" Make honeymoons great, friends. Show history what we millennials are about.

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