It’s wedding season and the celebrations that mark the heralding of a new lease of life are bound to be plentiful in them being events and memories raising a toast to the beginning of a journey in togetherness. The star of the show indeed is the main ceremony that plays out in all glitz and glamour or in as humility and subduedness as one might prefer. But no less distinctive are the rituals and celebrations that precede the D- day, with each holding their own significance. What entails as the nature of such significance differs immensely though. From aesthetic pre wedding shoots to memorable engagement ceremonies, from auspicious traditional observances to customary following of rites, or even such revelry that are purely indulgent in the vibes of the happiness that is to follow, weddings are never an affair concise enough to be wrapped up within a single day. For days and weeks and perhaps sometimes even for months altogether, the jolly good vibe of weddings ensue to keep the brides and grooms to be and their entourage of family and friends and relatives and well wishers in the most spirited of spirits for the final rendezvous to culminate in the beginning of the journey called the bliss of conjugality.
Despite the festivities characterising every wedding celebration, it isn’t exactly a party atmosphere that permeates the majority of them. But there exists indeed this one particular event, of seemingly very modern day prominence that is a gala party indeed in the true sense of the term. Catering specifically to the bride to be or the groom to be are these immensely fun filled gatherings that we partake of today under the identity of bachelor and bachelorette parties. With mainly friends and younger family members in tow, the soon to be wed bride or groom is hosted to an usually lavish celebration, replete with all elements of dance and music, food and booze, as all on board amuse and entertain themselves to the best extent possible. This might be a single day affair or more commonly a night out with the gang or even a weekend getaway that offers the greatest possible scope for enjoyment. Though not a traditional or customary part of the wedding itinerary in most cultures, these pre wedding fun parties are today quite the norm for all irrespective of the beliefs and customs that govern otherwise their ritualistic observance of the wedding. Global therefore in its popularity and widely anticipated in its mere vibe that indeed is emblematic of every grand party ever, these bachelor or bachelorette parties are what makes modern day weddings and the plunge into togetherness even more unforgettable a coming together of moments and memories to celebrate now and cherish later.
Notwithstanding however such very present day notions of fun in which they find expression, bachelor parties are no novelty, neither are they even any not so recent phenomenon in the whole wedding scenario. These events are rather much more steeped in the alleys of time and are surprisingly much more archaic in their origin than what we tend to believe they are. Dating back as early as the 5th century B.C. are these Spartan ‘rituals’ of passage, making such celebrations that we consider to be essentially modern adhere instead to the Greek fancy for dishing out novelties. The assertion back then was essentially as grand as well, as the event was intended indeed to celebrate the groom’s last night as a single man in which the Spartans held a dinner and made toasts on his behalf. But of non prevalence was the excessive, even copious perhaps amount of amusement and tomfoolery that has very much been the norm of such parties ever since they became more mainstream sometime in the 19th century.
Even in their contemporary reference though, ‘traditional’ bachelor parties, or stag nights as they are also called, used to be a banquet hosted by the father of the groom to raise a toast to the couple to be. The essence of all the fun and enjoyment seems though to retain somewhat of its essence. Even today, despite all their excessive plunges into the fountains of every kind of fun appealing enough to amuse those concerned, it still is the idea of the bachelor waiting for his imminent wedding to forever pledge his loyalty to his entourage of friends, or who instead are referred to today in the emotionally charged terminology as ‘bros’. That was exactly the thought that prevailed even in the Spartan times, though such extravagances of that era did not command identity as being ‘bachelor parties’ per se. For the simple reason that the term bachelor did not come to mean what it now does till almost a millennium later, these events that essentially characterised the immediate night of the groom in the eve of his wedding therefore came to encompass also the almost jibed connotation of being the ‘last night of freedom’. This whole phenomenon therefore prevailed as almost nameless celebrations over the centuries perhaps until the turn of the 20th century endowed upon it a naming identity of its own. It was only in 1922 that the term bachelor party came to be, even when first references to Western stag nights sometime a century earlier could be encountered in the Oxford English Dictionary.
It indeed was the bachelor party that came first but following this particular ‘custom’ of grooms allowed an event to enjoy their final days of singlehood or simply to bond up or stress down with their most closest of friends and ‘bros’ emerged a similar such practice alluding to the ladies of the wedding affair. Though catapulting to prominence much later, only sometime in the 1980s even when it perhaps had already been a ‘thing’ some couple decades earlier were the bachelorette parties, modelled indeed after the corresponding stag parties. Known therefore also as hen parties to emphasise indeed and perhaps stereotype also the conventions associated with each gender, it though is somewhat surprising that the term ‘hen party’ as such had been around since the 1800s. The context of its usage though was different, referring instead to an all woman gathering at that time until the current notion of it took over more than a century later. Even then, it wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that hen parties or more commonly bachelorette parties came to be quintessential almost a feature of weddings. With elements identical to those that characterise their counterpart catering to entertaining the groom side of the wedding extravaganza, bachelorettes or stagettes today conjure up as indulgent an image of all things exciting and entertaining.
Sometimes associated with debauchery and extreme taking to avenues of enjoyment though less commonly so much as what tends to be the case with bachelor parties, bachelorette celebrations also though can be somewhat linked to traditional some observances. Though such continuing customs does not likely point exactly to the origin of these hen parties, they assert still the fact that they aren’t any novelties either. In fact, as such hardcore celebrations took upon a rather maligned identity owing to their unbounded explorations of often raucous mannerism, it also became more convenient for other pre wedding celebrations like bridesmaids luncheons to instead take centerstage. Also associated could be such traditional events like the South African kitchen tea or something as inclusive as a pamper party, without generally the explicitness that dominates proceedings in the exclusively celebrational bachelorette parties.
Today though, conforming to the inclusive way of modern life are these bachelor and bachelorette parties that tend instead to come across as a single celebration. Referred to as sten dos, these are of course more ingenious stemmings with still raising a toast to the final days as single individuals governing their theme and occurrence. Whatever might be the premise from which such bachelor parties and bachelorettes spanned out separately and prevailed, either exclusively or in culmination, it essentially is the idea of celebrating the final days of singlehood and the embarking upon a new journey of life that governs these pre wedding gatherings. It is perhaps in recognisation of this essence that such experiences exclusively reserved as events preceding one immensely significant episode of life have tended to wean away their rather notorious status that they encompasses during the time they were beginning to become mainstream. Exotic destinations, full hearted enjoyment, luxurious snapshots, unwinding rituals are what today makes for a grand pre wedding party in most occasions. Debauchery and rowdiness or other such excessive exploitation of the avenues of enjoyment might still make up for a considerable chunk of the celebration that brides and grooms and stags and hens indulge in all frenzy in their final few days of bachelorhood. But the larger trend today is one that paints a rosy and not repulsive picture of how the thrill of marriage takes over all those concerned, establishing therefore more accurate a link to the Spartan practice rooted in antiquity.