Mí na Meala [pronounced “mee nah mah-lah”] is the Irish word for honeymoon and literally means “Month of Honey.” In my historical search for the origins of this marriage tradition, I saw a few theories, though some, like a connection to “marriage by capture” or abduction, may be sensationalized by some historians.
Another idea is the honeymoon came from metaphors of love being full and sweet at marriage but diminishes afterwards, like the full moon wanes[1.1]. However, those notions use literary sources from the end of the 16th Century that are far too recent to be considered the best origin for honeymoon. I’d rather get to actual origins by going as far back in time as possible.
As far as literary use, the word honeymoon seems to have a starting point in 1546 when playwright and poet, John Heywood, wrote a compendium of marriage proverbs[1.1]. I wouldn’t count that as the origin of the term either, though, since marriage traditions started long before Heywood wrote the compendium.
Mead, beer, and wine are ancient, and beer and mead have been dated as far back as 7000 BC in China[1.2], 5000 BC in the Middle East[1.3], and 2800 BC in Europe[1.2]. Alcohol use was widespread by about 3300 BC[1.3], and from the Bible, we know wine was used for wedding celebrations by the first century AD (John 2:1-11), so it’s safe to say society used mead, beer, and wine with marriage traditions thousands of years before Heywood wrote down “honeymoon” in 1546.
Scandinavian, Welsh, and German people, all of whom have Celtic roots, all used mead, which was also called honey wine, during wedding celebrations[1.4, 1.5, 1.2]. These peoples far outdate the Roman Empire and Medieval Europe, so their traditions are where most people believe the “honey” from honeymoon comes from, but in fact, the tradition of giving mead to wedding couples was cross-cultural around Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, so mead, which is made by fermenting honey, given to couples in these traditions is the best root for the “honey” in honeymoon.
As far as the “moon” part of honeymoon, I know that lunar cycles were very important for ancient peoples to track time, so the “moon” or month (mí in Irish) is the much more likely source of the “moon” in honeymoon, because it was tradition of the ancient Celts, Scandinavians, Welsh, and Germans to give gifts of enough honey wine to the married couple to last a whole “moon” or month[1.4, 1.5, 1.8].
This didn’t mean the newlyweds took a month-long vacation, as the modern tradition of traveling during the honeymoon was not widespread until early in the 19th Century AD[1.1, 1.6, 1.7]. The month’s supply of mead for the honey-moon in ancient times was to bless the marriage with fertility[1.4, 1.5, 1.6], since mead was considered an aphrodisiac.
It wasn’t until after about 1820 AD that people started to travel during the honeymoon. This tradition started in Great Britain during the industrial age when wealth spread to the average person and allowed people to travel for pleasure[1.7, 1.9]. The French even called it the “voyage à la façon anglaise” or “English-style voyage”[1.7].
This new kind of honeymoon voyage or “bridal tour,” though, was often for visiting family and friends that couldn’t attend the wedding. Wealthier couples sometimes brought friends and family on the tour. It wasn’t until later in the 19th Century that wedding couples used the honeymoon to be apart from everyone else[1.6, 1.7, 1.8].
That brings us to our modern notions of the honeymoon – a trip, usually much shorter than a month, for the newly married couple to be alone together.
If you’d like to compare the honeymoon traditions brought up here with Biblical, ancient Jewish culture, you might be surprised that God gave His people a honeymoon period of one full year where the husband could not be forced to fight in war or do any work, so that he would be free at home to make his new wife happy for the entire year (Deuteronomy 24:5; also Deuteronomy 20:7).
If only newlyweds could have a full “honey-year” today with no stresses except to make each other happy, the divorce rate might go far below where it is today. God certainly has wisdom in that ancient decree.
[1.1] Jacob Shamsian. "The origin of the word 'honeymoon' is shrouded in a 500-year-old literary hoax". Insider. 2017 Mar. 27. Retrieved 2022 Mar. 10.
[1.2] "Mead". Wikipedia. Retrieved 2022 Mar. 10.
[1.3] "First evidence of social beer consumption found in 7,000-year-old Israeli town". The Times of Israel. 2021 Dec. 21. Retrieved 2022 Mar. 10.
[1.4] "Mead and the Honeymoon". Meadist. 2014 Oct. 13. Retrieved 2022 Mar. 10.
[1.5] "Reviving an Ancient Tradition". Honey Grail. Retrieved 2022 Mar. 10.
[1.6] Marlesse Cepeda. "This Is the Real Reason We Go on Honeymoons". Country Living. 2016 Jun. 22. Retrieved 2022 Mar. 10.
[1.7] "Honeymoon". Wikipedia. Retrieved 2022 Mar. 10.
[1.8] DeAnna Kerley. "Where Does the Term "Honeymoon" Come From?". Mental Floss. 2014 Jan. 14. Retrieved 2022 Mar. 10.
[1.9] Liz Susong. "Everything You Need To Know About the Honeymoon Tradition". Brides. 2021 Jul. 5. Retrieved 2022 Mar. 10.