With many customs, the farther back in time you go, the weirder things get. The current generational emphasis on culture has tried to make it sound like these are the wildest times on planet Earth.
When not obsessed with a strictly Victorian view of the past and the world, you find a lot of weird. Even in the context of their earliest occurrences, people liked to get wild at a stag and hen party.
These traditions cover areas of Northern Africa, Greece, and throughout Europe. Even so, every few decades someone tries to reinvent the wheel.
A 1933 publication from Iowa tried to rationalize what it felt was a very American phenomenon. The author was aghast on behalf of Europeans that American men and women had separate and unique parties!
Want to know the real truth behind stag and hen parties? Keep reading to find out!
The Whats and Whys Behind a Stag and Hen Party
The two types of parties didn’t originate in the same place or at the same time. They have met up over time to be viewed in frustration by prudish traditionalists and exploited by marketers.
Like any tradition or party, they are anchored in an excuse to break with the day to day and create a unique experience worth remembering for the individual and the tribe.
A night for women to share their hopes, fears, and dreams of the married life. These sometimes unforgettable (and sometimes hard to remember) parties are more than just an excuse to drink, dance, and laugh.
A hen is one of those old words simply meaning woman. Much like how chick means bird and a kid is a young goat, there’s sometimes a crossover between words used for animals and people.
Some believe that hen referrers to henna, a practice alive today in various cultures for temporarily dyeing the arms and hands of soon-to-be brides. This is a ‘sounds alike is not alike’ situation.
Early Greek hen parties included sacrifices to female gods for guidance, protection, and health during the always on the minds of ancient people ‘duty’ of childbirth.
In cultures where henna is used, the party period started weeks before the wedding. This included fattening up the bride to make her more appealing to her mate, and teaching the young maids what the marriage night would be like.
The reason these parties started was to create a learning time for the bride. In the past the demarcation between maid and mother was everything. Not everything a woman needs to know about the married life could be taught in a single night, but it was rare that much instruction in the bedroom arts happened prior.
The mystique that then surrounded the tradition was amped up both to repel men and to enhance the feeling of transformation for the young woman.
As people get more cosmopolitan and bedroom knowledge is more common (and taught in schools) the hen night is more about celebrating the journey to the moment than it is about taking on the yokes of ‘womanhood’.
For men, the stag do or stag party is the last night to do the things a single man does that a married one cannot (or should not). Like most traditions involving men it various in its intensity between bawdy and rowdy.
The actual form of the stag do takes many shapes for many people. Throughout time it has included men gathering and going off from the village, away from the genteel folk. The activities engaged in are what seems to change.
The word itself again refers to males of many species, though the comparison to deer and antlers is commonly implied.
A man’s buddies, siblings, or elders would take them out on a series of tests. In the modern-day, these take the form of games. In the past, these were challenges to prove his worthiness to wed.
Over time the activities were less about proving ability and more about enjoying men-only activities.
Whereas women needed to be taught the how and what of their married futures, men had to give up carefree lives for responsibility.
The night started with tests to prove worthiness and then started being tasks they weren’t supposed to do anymore. The formation of the family unit meant protecting and providing for the home, not drinking and singing down at the pub.
The presence of strippers, dancers, and escorts was as much brought in for fun for the single guys as it was a ‘final test’ for the groom to stay loyal to his betrothed.
When tests of skill or strength are not employed, it’s common to see gambling and tests of luck.
Like many rites of passage, the modern world has kept the fun bits and let the meaning fall to the side.
Despite the differences between the ancient and the modern version of both parties, they still have a lot in common with each other then and now.
Both were meant as a rite of passage. Both now are used as much for celebrating the last night being single as they are a celebration of the upcoming union.
The equality strides taken between the genders over time has left more and more of the ‘responsibility’ part out. Both partners share many of the responsibilities and no longer need to be taught what to expect in the bedroom.
This has given way to the parties meaning what you want them to. They are parties. They are meant for fun and to create memories.
How you chose to create those memories, and the meaning you bring to it, are all up to you.
The modern world lets you build your own meaning and leave the past to weirdly rediscover that people are, and always have been, pretty freaky.
Live Your Night
The rollicking history of the stag and hen party is but one reason to continue the tradition.
Ready to create a night that you and your mates won’t soon forget? Contact us for more information for staging your do.