Have you ever wondered why a hen party is a traditional precursor to a wedding? Here’s a brief history of this fun-filled custom.
It’s all Greek
The tradition of the hen party actually goes all the way back to Ancient Greece. The bride to be would spend the time before her wedding feasting with her female friends and members of her family. This part of the Greek wedding is known as the Proaulia. This involved symbolic sacrifices which represent the bride’s path from childhood innocence and virginity to adulthood.
Therefore the hen party actually predates the stag party. We don’t find reference of all-male gatherings prior to weddings until the Spartan era, over 1,000 years later.
Why is it called a ‘hen party’?
The word ‘hen’ was first used as a slang term for a woman in the 1620s. However, it wasn’t until the 1800s that the term ‘hen party’ was first popularised. The Deseret News, a newspaper in Utah, described a hen party, as a ‘time honored idea that tea and chitchats, gossip smart hats, constitute the necessary adjuncts to these particular gatherings’. Back then, a ‘hen party’ wasn’t necessarily connected to a wedding.
Did you know that the UK hen party is actually a recent tradition?, becoming more popular either in the 1970s or the 1990s, depending on who you believe.
The 1970s marked the decade in which women began to directly express the sexual freedoms won in the 1960s. However, back then women only tended to ‘parody themselves’ and parade around their workplaces. In shades of the Greek Proaulia, this was also a symbolic gesture, this time representing the woman’s withdrawal from the world of work to a life of housework and motherhood. However, hen dos still weren’t necessarily ‘universal’ – it’s not unusual if your mum didn’t have one.
By the 1990s, with the UK becoming more and more socially liberal, the hen party had begun to resemble what it is today, with brides-to-be having an almost limitless choice to party with friends before tying the knot.
So, there you have it – a short history of the symbolism behind this great tradition. The only thing we have to left to ask ourselves is: what does the future hold for the hen party?