Today, the hen do is as central to getting married as the cake and the pretty dress. But what is the hen do about, where does it come from, and why is it even called a 'hen do'?
Why is a hen party called a hen party?
Let's take a whirlwind tour of marriage and the ancient rite of passage that is a hen do from the very beginning.
Two million years ago, when we were hunter-gatherers, we got together with our betrothed when we wanted to. Our checklist would have been a) do we fancy him? b) how competent is he at hunting and foraging? And c) will he bear me healthy offspring? And the men would have asked the same questions. Simple, the relationship between the sexes, while divided in terms of labour, was equal.
So when it came to actual marriage, it was no big deal. It was not a significant issue for the larger clan as a whole, and so there was no big celebration. It makes sense then that the hen do didn't even get a look in. About 12,000 years ago, we saw the very beginnings of agriculture, and this alone has done more to change the cultural landscape for women than anything else in the history of the human species.
To cut a very long story short, the domestication of animals and plants went hand in hand with land ownership and, subsequently, the property of women. This was the birth of marriage as a celebration as women became a valuable commodity to be traded. We left our own family and the protection of our father and married into our husband's family, securing wealth and social status in the process.
The respective terms have some pretty surprising origins, dating right back to the time of the Spartans in ancient Greece.
T sounds like stag dos - or bachelor parties, as they're often referred to in the States - have always been boozy affairs.
Numerous sources suggest the male pre-wedding celebration dates back to the fifth century in Sparta, a prominent city-state in ancient Greece, where a raucous feast was held in order to toast the groom-to-be.
The term stag has obvious strong male connotations - the animal is a strong leader of the pack.
In Wiccan religions, Celts worshipped a horned God called Cernunnos - sometimes referred to as Herne the Hunter.
The term' stag does' for a party held for a man getting married could well have been influenced by Cernunnos' connection with the stag in rut, which led him to be associated with fertility.
The phrase 'hen do' reportedly dates back to the 1800s, where it was a term used to describe a gathering of women - though initially there was no pre-wedding context.
In America, The Deseret News noted in 1897 that a hen party was a "time-honoured idea that tea and chitchats, smart gossip hats, constitute the necessary adjuncts to these particular gatherings."
In 1940, politician and activist Eleanor Roosevelt was described as hosting a Christmas time "hen" party for cabinet wives and "ladies of the press".
Etymology (the study of the history of words) shows that in early 14th century English, hen pertained to a female of any species, not just a bird. Therefore a 'hen party' directly translated into an exclusive female party. Likewise, stag used to mean a male of any species, so 'stag party' instantly denoted a male party. This is where the UK Small cultural differences mean that not every country has different variations on how they name these pre-marital parties. Australia calls them hen and buck parties, while America refers to them as merely bachelorette and stag parties.
Okay, so here's the history lesson. A common misconception is that the terms' hen' and 'stag' both originate from simple social stereotypes. It's more likely that the word hen hasn't always meant female chicken. In Middle English, the hen could mean the female of any bird, and so a hen party was a party exclusively for ladies. Similarly, but going back even further, is the stag party, and you've guessed it, initially, stag could mean the male of any animals, not just a male deer and so a stag party is one exclusively for gents.
So it turns out hen party's aren't a creation of modern society, and they go pretty far back. Although I bet, they didn't have such unusual hen party events all that time ago…Does skydiving hen anyone? So, where did the terms originate from? The tradition of the stag party goes back even further (sorry Hens) certainly as far as Tudor times. Just imagine how busy Henry VIII must have been with invites!
Numerous sources suggest that the very first stag party was held in the 5th century in Sparta, where a pre-marriage feast was held to toast the groom-to-be. On the other hand, hen celebrations have their roots more grounded in North African, Middle Eastern and Asian lifestyle. This is because the authentic phrase from which hens get together is believed to be henna, which is a wedding custom in all these cultures. Henna has significant importance in the East and is considered to have tendencies to be capable of purifying the bride and hold her risk-free from evil.
Here in Melbourne, we are somewhat on our own with our abstract names of hen and stag parties to see off the final moments of freedom. Australia is similar, but slight cultural differences mean that they call it to hen party and buck party. Alternatively, America appears to be very vanilla in the naming of their pre-marital parties, calling them a bachelorette party and a stag party, respectively.
Whatever your background, there is no escaping the fact that marriage is possibly the most critical decision of your life. So what better way to say goodbye to single life than to celebrate in style! Everyone knows that chocolate and hens go hand in hand, so if you're after an unusual hen party event, why not try your hand at one of our chocolate workshops?
By looking at Google's N-gram tool, which shows the rise and fall in popularity of keywords and phrases across five million books, the use of the words grew from the mid-1960s onwards.
It was first used in its modern-day wedding context in inverted commas by the Times newspaper in 1976.
It featured in a story about a male stripper fined for behaving in a "lewd, obscene and disgusting manner" by Leicester Crown Court.
It sounds like nothing much has changed.
This isn't any old celebration. The hen does have become a treasured national pastime and one of the few rites of passage that we celebrate in the modern world. And it's no exaggeration to describe it as an emerging phenomenon of the 21st century. As the working nation toasts the arrival of the weekend, pink all-girl parades snake their paths through towns and cities across the land. Even in remote villages, holiday cottages are abuzz with females quaffing Prosecco and shrieking with laughter as they make their 'model man' from multi-coloured plasticine.