Friday, June 15, 2012

The Honey Moon

I was watching a television show called "Museum Secrets" that showed some of the permanent collection from the Neues Museum in Berlin. My interest was piqued by the 'Berlin Gold Hat' pictured here, courtesy of Wiki Commons. The commentator stated that the hat was a solar/lunar calendar and was used in honey production to know when the solstice in June was near. It was stated that bees were affected by the full moon in June, this was when the hive would have maximum honey and this is why marriages are followed by the 'honey-moon' - maximum sweetness.
This put several questions in my mind which are challenging to resolve in a few hours of casual research.
Is the June full moon actually called the 'honey moon'? In some cultures, yes.
The solstice celebration is also the feast of St. John the Baptist. In spite of what some websites say, he is not the patron saint of bees. St. Ambrose is because of a story in the Legenda Aurea about a swarm of bees and that he also compared the church to a hive of bees.
When did people start having honeymoon trips? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first use of 'honeymoon' as the post marriage bliss was in 1546 in J. Heywood's book on proverbs in the English tongue and refers to the moon that is full but it doomed to wane like people's affections. The honeymoon did not come into style until the late 18th or early 19th century. Wikipedia is my source for saying that, as the British moved into India, the Indian custom of a post-marriage bridal tour became the fashion. There are no references to a honeymoon tour before 1821 in the OED.
The word 'honey' comes from the Germanic languages and is hunig or hunæg in Old English. There is no honey-month or honey-moon in the Anglo Saxon dictionaries. June was called Liða by the Venerable Bede.
From Bulletin 489, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "It is possible that the custom of killing the bees and taking the honey in the full moon in June may result in a smaller amount being secured that if the killing were left until gathering had ceased in the fall."
When did it become the custom to have marriages in June? I am not sure. It is likely a modern invention because people got married any old time although, in the Middle Ages, high feasts seemed like a favorite time. As well, many people did not actually get formally married by a priest because many of the small villages lacked priests.
So you see, it is complicated. And so, I shall leave this with a quote from Brewer's Guide to Phrase and Fable: "a holiday spent together by a newly married couple. The word was originally used for the first month of marriage, although 'moon' does not mean the 'month' here, as sometimes supposed. The reference is to the moon as sweetness and is ironic, for no sooner is it full than it begins to wane." Indeed.


Anachronist said...

A great post - I have been wondering about the origins of 'honeymoon' myself and Brewer's Guide really hit the nail on the head - good times seem to wane so quickly.

Kristin said...

I read somewhere that June is the most popular month because in the Middle Ages, women took their yearly baths in May. So they were still fairly clean--the bouquets of flowers were to cover up the body odor.

No idea if that's true or not, though.

The Red Witch said...

I hesitate to say if the yearly bath in May is true. I think people washed more than we think but took sponge baths. For people in the cities access to enough water and wood to heat it to have a bath might have never happened. But migration to the cities was a later development as I think many wedding customs are. I think the flowers are a fertility thing.

Anachronist said...

Yearly baths in May...*jawdrop*

Flowers could have more than one use - covering up the b.o. could be combined with fertility thing.

The Red Witch said...

I think the stink in town was due to a lack of sewers and places for excrement to go except into the street rather than that people were filthy.

african girl said...

Hi there! Thank you for educating me. Now I know the origin of 'honeymoon' lol. Well, for me when it comes to wedding date I would really love it to be on June not because I want to belong to the June Brides but because I was born on June.hehe. Isn't it great? I hope I will meet my lucky charm someday.

The Red Witch said...

Thank you for your comments. June is a lovely month for weddings. Lots of flowers for outdoor photos and the possibility of a less formal outdoor wedding. I am sure you will meet the one someday, there is somebody for everybody.