Honey has been a traditional gift for many occasions. But where did we get this custom to give honey on special occasions? The practice seems to be as old as man. Bees and honey have been known to mankind for as long as we find records. One of the oldest, a painting in spider cave, near Valencia, Spain is dated between 6,000 and 8,000 years old. What they were doing with this precious treasure, and what they thought about it has disappeared with them. But records have been left since that provide clues to the use of honey as a gift tradition.
In ancient Egypt, at least as far back as 30 b.c., honey was used in households as a sweetening agent. It was highly valued, and therefore often used as a tribute or as payment. By the 7th century b.c., the Greeks gifted honey to the gods and to departed spirits as sacrificial offering. This value seems time honored. We can fast forward to the 11th century a.d. and find German peasants following the same traditions of the Egyptians in gifting honey to the feudal lords as payment (along with beeswax apparently!) (1)
It has become customary to send honey bottles and gift baskets to family and friends during Rosh Hashanah.
Honey is sweet. And this has value as we see in the custom of payment and offerings above, but the sweetness also has symbolic value. And this symbolism has found it’s way into many different gifting traditions. It is customary on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, to dip apples into honey in order to welcome a sweet new year. (2) And where is sweetness more cherished than in romantic relationships. We can find many instances of honey being used as gifts for our sweethearts. Eastern Europe in particular has a tradition of offering honey cakes to romantic interests. They also are given to teachers, grandparents, or others to express sweet affection. (3) Honey and wine have been used in ancient Chinese wedding ceremonies. Small jars of honey are often given to wedding guests as favors.
References to honey and bees can be found in many different religious contexts. It apparently sustained John the Baptist during one of his retreats into the wilderness. In ancient times, it was often associated with sustaining through times of war, crop failure, or famine. One interesting gifting example can be found in the Buddhist festival of Madhu Purnima, celebrated in India and Bangladesh. The name in Bengali means ‘honey full moon’. Apparently, during one of Buddha’s retreats, he was sustained by a gift of honey from a monkey. This act is now remembered in the tradition of giving honey to Buddhist monks during this festival.
Honey has found it’s way into many old Christmas traditions from gifts to a symbol of the sweetness of sharing.
While it wasn’t reported that the wise men brought a jar of honey or two to the messiah on his birthday, honey has never-the-less found it’s way into this gift-giving celebration. One fun tradition can be found in Slavakia. There is a tradition of making thin Christmas wafers called oplátky, unleavened bread similar to the break used during Eucharistic celebrations in the Roman Catholic church. (5) These wafers are garnished with honey, garlic, and walnuts. Then everyone takes a bite from each other’s wafer to share a sense of community and giving. In Russia, a dish called kutya is served on Christmas Eve. Whole grains are soaked for hours and mixed with honey and poppy seeds. (6) In Greece, they eat melomakarona, a soft cookie that is dipped in honey syrup and covered in walnuts. (7) And you can find great recipes for German Christmas honey cookies on the web. (8) The honey-cured ham is another popular Christmas gift tradition. Honey is used in the curing process. The honey helps sweeten the salty brine to provide a better flavor. And the natural preserving character of honey helps prevent bad bacteria as well as acting as a probiotic. (9)
How to Give Honey
Honey makes a unique elegant gift for holidays and romantic occasions.
There is no one way to give honey. Probably one of the most common honey gifts is just a tried and true jar of honey. Carmel Lavender offers honey for sale for gifts. It is an affordable way to give someone something truly unique. Since each area has a different ecology of plants providing the raw material to the bees, there is incredible local character in honey, and giving someone a jar of local honey is like giving them a unique wine. It is a fun local experience. It is nice to pair jar honey with cheese and nuts in a basket. Honeycomb is another fun way to give someone honey. Honeycomb is beautiful as well as sweet. And it is often more difficult to find. Therefore your gift of honeycomb is likely to be unmatched. Honeycomb can be paired with a nice olive wood cutting board on which to serve it. And if you wish to upscale the gift, you can add a nice cutting knife. Other gift ideas include tea and honey sets, and baked items with honey as an ingredient.
Where to Get It
You can purchase honey for gifts, including unique varietal honey and comb honey (seasonally) at the Carmel Lavender web store. Click here to visit our honey products.
(1) Honey History Facts, Honey.com, http://www.honey.com/newsroom/press-kits/honey-history-facts
(2) Oh!Nuts, Rosh Hashanah Gift Baskets, http://www.ohnuts.com/buy.cfm/rosh-hashanah
(3) Traditional Mezeskalacs Hungarian Honey Cake, Magyarmarketing.com, http://magyarmarketing.com/new-products/traditional-mezeskalacs-hungarian-honey-cake
(4) Madhu Purnima, Wikipedia.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madhu_Purnima
(5) Christmas Wafer, Wikipedia.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_wafer
(6) Russian Christmas Eve, SaintNick.org, http://www.saintnick.org/html/traditions.html
(7) Melomakarona Greek Christmas Honey Cookie, JustaPinch.com, http://www.justapinch.com/recipes/dessert/cookies/melomakarona-greek-christmas-honey-cookie.html
(8) Recipie for Lebkuchen, Honey & Almond German Christmas Cookies, NeoHomesteading.com
(9) What is Honey Cured Ham, Wisegeek.com, http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-honey-cured-ham.htm#didyouknowout