Mead and the Honeymoon

 Swedish Mead being enjoyed at Midsummer’s Eve. Tobias Radeskog

So I got the idea for this post while my husband and I were on our honeymoon/first anniversary (we had to recover from all the wedding planning, next life I’m just throwing a barbecue!) in Ireland. We had a fantastic dinner at Bunratty Castle near Shannon, Co Clare (I highly recommend visiting if you ever get the chance, they aren’t kidding about the wine being never-ending) and they began the festivities by toasting with some (also-fantastic) mead. As the evening went on, one of our hosts found out we were there on our honeymoon and shared a story of the history of the drink.

He told us that in Ireland the happy newlywed couple was always given a month’s supply of mead as a wedding gift. Mead was believed to improve the virility of the groom and the fertility of the bride and help them on their way to growing their new family. Mead, being derived from honey, was then consumed by the couple of the last month, or moon, and thus the tradition of the honeymoon was born!

It’s a lovely story full of affection and delicious alcoholic beverages. It is also, unfortunately, apocryphal.

After researching online for a bit, I found the tradition had been attributed to the Irish, the Babylonians, 5th century pagans, and the Teutons (who turned out to be an ancient Germanic tribe). Some of these were easier to dismiss outright, seeing as the word didn’t appear until the 16th century, and that the term honeymoon has a direct French translation, lune de miel (now that’s a beautiful phrase!), but there is no Norman source that uses the term. Since the Normans settled in France, you would expect the phrase to have originated and appeared in Norman sources before appearing in French.

Instead it seems the term has no such romantic origin and is instead meant to highlight the way love wants like the moon. One of the sources I found quotes Richard Huloet’s Abecedarium Anglico Latinum of 1552: “Honeymoon, a term proverbially applied to such as be new married, which will not fall out at the first, but the one loveth the other at the beginning exceedingly, the likelihood of their exceeding love appearing to assuage, the which time the vulgar people call the honey moon”.

Ah, well. C’est la lune.

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