Honeymoons have become an integral part of marriage rituals, often exceeding wedding ceremonies in cost and duration. The term honeymoon dates to the 1500s and once referred to newlyweds' emotional state: "Married persons ... love well at first, and decline in affection afterwards: It is honey now, but will change as the moon" (Thomas Blount, Glossographia, quoted in Bulcroft, p. xiii). Prior to the nineteenth century, weddings in America and Europe were commonly raucous, communal affairs that afforded the couple little privacy. Wedding guests accompanied the bride and groom to the bedroom, playing pranks and departing only when the curtains on the bed were drawn. Wealthy couples often traveled after their weddings, accompanied by family and friends, to visit relatives unable to attend the ceremony. These trips were thought to strengthen the newlyweds' ties to their extended family and community, rather than to each other. Some upper-class American couples embarked on "bridal tours" of Europe, accompanied by family members, in the 1840s and 1850s.
Greater availability and affordability of transportation enabled middle-class newlyweds to travel beginning in the 1860s. The post-wedding trip changed from communal bridal tour to private honeymoon as Victorian society placed increased importance on the couple as an autonomous unit and mandated smaller, more modest weddings. The honeymoon, often taken in a secluded location, was thought to provide newlyweds a reprieve from prying family members and well-wishers as well as enable them to express their sexuality privately and discreetly.
Newlyweds in the early 1900s were presented with a range of honeymoon options; the groom typically selected the location and paid for the trip. While some couples stayed at a seaside resort, others camped, canoed, or took bicycle tours. Gradually the meaning of the honeymoon became connected to the destination itself: natural wonders such as Niagara Falls were believed to mirror and enhance the intensity of the couple's romance. Niagara Falls remained a popular honeymoon destination from the 1930s through the 1950s, both for its natural beauty and the anonymity it provided to bashful couples who could blend in among other honeymooners.
The 1950s witnessed a revival of large communal weddings, and the honeymoon became a means for middle-class couples to display their prosperity. Brides began to take the primary role in planning honeymoons, as middle-class women defined themselves in terms of marriage and family. However, postwar honeymooners contended with a new set of anxieties: honeymooning was seen as a critical sexual rite of passage, and experts warned that wedding night incompatibilities could ruin a marriage.
Honeymoon destinations changed with the growth of the tourist industry. Starting in the 1960s, more couples opted for travel packages to exotic destinations such as Hawaii and the Caribbean. As travel expenses increased, one cost-saving trend of the early 2000s was the "destination wedding," in which couples invited close family and friends to a small ceremony in a tropical locale that doubled as their honeymoon destination.
Honeymoons remain a popular custom despite significant changes in marriage trends. As the average age of first marriage increases and remarriages become more common, both bride and groom have greater autonomy and financial resources to devote to a honeymoon. Given couples' high rates of premarital sex and cohabitation, honeymoons may no longer serve as a sexual rite of passage, but they still enable newlyweds to develop emotional bonds in a space apart from family and domestic life.
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Dubinsky, Karen. The Second Greatest Disappointment: Honeymooners, Heterosexuality, and the Tourist Industry at Niagara Falls. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1999.
Freeman, Elizabeth. The Wedding Complex: Forms of Belonging in Modern American Culture. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002.
Geller, Jaclyn. Here Comes the Bride: Women, Weddings and the Marriage Mystique. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2001.
Ingraham, Chrys. White Weddings: Romancing Heterosexuality in Popular Culture. New York: Routledge, 1999.
Otnes, Cele C., and Elizabeth H. Pleck. Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
Rothman, Ellen. Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America. New York: Basic Books, 1984.