The Origins of Hen (and Stag) Parties

Hen and stag parties are extremely widespread in UK culture now, and it might seem strange if a couple were getting married and decided not to have either one to wish the bride and groom well on their respective last nights of freedom. However, nowadays these parties are often associated with getting drunk, partying hard […]

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Hen and stag parties are extremely widespread in UK culture now, and it might seem strange if a couple were getting married and decided not to have either one to wish the bride and groom well on their respective last nights of freedom. However, nowadays these parties are often associated with getting drunk, partying hard and being as rebellious as possible. Does this sound like something that’s been going on for hundreds of years?

Well, surprisingly to most perhaps, the concept has actually been around for a very long time, and the names hen and stag have also been used to mean the bride-to-be and groom-to-be for almost as long. So where did these turns of phrase originate from?

In fact, although it may seem obscure now for the bride to be named after a female chicken, the word “hen” hasn’t referred to a particular species for very long. In fact, it would have been used a few hundred years ago in English to mean a female bird of any kind, or simply a female term for any person or animal. The same is true of the term “stag” which could previously have referred to male of any species and not just a deer.

As such, when the terms first started being used in what’s now the United Kingdom, it wouldn’t have seemed so abstract because chickens and deer wouldn’t be the images conjured up by the names. Indeed, they might have sounded a bit more like the simple American terms “bachelor party” and “bachelorette party” which are famously still used today. Meanwhile in Australia, people also refer to the bride’s party with her friends as a “hen party” but use the term “buck party” for the groom.

But what about the parties themselves? Well, it’s said that the first known stag party was held as far back as the 5th century, where a Spartan pre-wedding feast was held to celebrate an upcoming wedding. Another possible reason for the term “hen party” catching on is a cultural link to Asian and African culture where henna is an important part of a bride’s wedding preparations. This history goes back further than the idea of simply having a party to toast the wedding, but may well be connected to the name we know today.

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