The history of the Stag and the Hen
These days it's pretty standard that when you have a wedding, you also have a Stag Do and a Hen Party. The Stag Do has a longer history so we will start with how this wedding formality came to be.
It's All Greek To Me
The stag party can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece (5th Century BC) where the Spartans would celebrate the night before a man came of age and was paired with a woman. This dinner with his military comrades was seen as his last night of freedom and the last chance to change his mind.
This last night of freedom has been anglicised and is now a place for drinking and humiliation or as the party refer to it - a bit of fun at the groom's expense. It has become the responsibility of the Best Man to organise and the stag party also have a very behind closed doors theme to it with both the Bride and the Groom having little or no knowledge what is going to happen.
This comes back to one of the first documented parties in Sherry's restaurant in New York City, the party had a dancer named "Little Egypt" who danced naked in the deserts and the party was eventually stopped by an officer of the law who was later brought to face the Police Board for interfering with a "behind closed doors" matter.
Why the Stag?
Well first off, the correct term is bachelor which is rooted in old French and meaning Young Knight. Being of French origin seems to be a big reason why we Brits reject the term in favour of Stag. Now in case you are not aware a Stag is a male deer, normally of the Red Deer variety and has large bony protrusions coming from its head called antlers. In Australia the term buck is used which is just a reference to a male horned animal.
There are several reasons why the term stag is used. Stags have a very male connotation and makes them a perfect symbol of manhood. More still they are the leader of the pack, a virile and strong animal in the prime of their lives, which is supposed to represent the groom at this conjecture.
A second reason can be linked to the Celtic and Pagan god named Cernunnos (the horned god) who could take on the form of a wild beast for hunts and was widely seen as the god of fertility, life and animal wealth and the underworld. This meant he was very popular to the ancient Brits and so is no surprise that he is now part of the marriage ritual. Cernunnos is very much in line with modern Stags due to his mischievous ways and links to the underworld.
What about the Hens?
These days it's pretty much unheard of to get married and not have a hen party but this wasn't always the case and has it lead to the deterioration of the Bridal Shower. The Bridal shower itself was a European practice born of the later 16th or 17th century which also became popular in the US colonies.
The customer grew out of earlier dowry practices when a poor woman's family may not have been able to afford a dowry for her wedding or if a father refused to give his daughter one due to not approving of the groom. In such situation other family and friends of the bride would contribute and bring gifts so she could marry the man of her choice.
Again, in the UK the giving of presents is now part of the actual wedding celebration rather than something done prior. Strangely however the history of the Hen night seems to go back even further but is routed more in North Africa, Middle Eastern and Asian lifestyle.
The Hen also does not actually refer to a female chicken, in older English the term Hen was used as a reference to any female bird and as such had been adopted for a way of referring to females in general. The celebration mentioned above often include the use of Henna, often in non-permanent tattoos and is seen as a way of purifying the bride and protecting her from evil until the groom takes on this role. True these hen parties were often done much in advance of the wedding unlike the stag party.
So, there you have it, a little bit of history which I's sure you're going to forget all about once the party starts and the alcohol and other debaucheries begin. However if you are getting married it's nice to know the reasons behind why we are doing the things we do and what their relevance actually is.