We may speak the same language, but there are a few differences between American and British cultures that truly set the two apart. Case in point: Americans call it a bachelor or bachelorette party, while in the U.K., it's a stag party or a hen do.
What Is a Stag Party and Hen Do?
A stag party is what Brits call a bachelor party, which is a party thrown in celebration of the man about to get married. A stag night is usually planned by the groom's friend or brother. Similarly, a hen do is a bachelorette party.
The British really have a knack for names: carts are called trolleys, cookies are biscuits, and instead of a bachelor party, they call it a stag party. It makes sense—a stag is a male deer, and they’re throwing a party. But what about a hen do? Hens are female chickens, but what is the "do" mean? And isn’t it a little weird that they don’t change at least one of the names to a doe party or a rooster do?
If you’re confused, we don’t blame you. That’s why we consulted with Holly Poulter, a London and Scotland-based wedding planner, to help explain how these unique names came to be.
Meet the Expert
Holly Poulter is the co-founder of the award-winning Revelry Events, a London and Scotland-based wedding planning company that loves rulebook-free weddings. Poulter is also the co-author of Unruly: The Honest and Rulebook-Free Guide to Modern Wedding Planning: Or How to Plan a Wedding (and not kill anyone in the process).
"Stag and hen parties are exactly the same as the American bachelor and bachelorette parties—a rite of passage celebration for brides and grooms in the months leading up to their wedding," says Poulter. "In theory, one last wild night with friends before walking down the aisle!"
Below, Poulter dives into the historical meaning behind these pre-wedding rituals, as well as if there are any differences between a stag party and hen do vs. a bachelor and bachelorette party.
The History and Meaning of a Stag Party
"Stag parties have their roots all the way back in Ancient Greece, where grooms-to-be would enjoy a night of feasting and revelry the night before the big day—a final night of freedom before settling down," explains Poulter.
The stag is a powerful symbol in mythology, religion, and folklore. In many Pagan traditions, they are seen as symbols of strength, virility, agility, and endurance. The antlers resemble tree branches, which stags wear like a crown. Stags also shed their antlers every year, which may symbolize rejuvenation and rebirth. Early Paleolithic cave art shows men wearing the antlers of the stag on their heads, which suggests that the antlers have been used as part of worship ceremonies for some time now.
The first stag parties can be traced back to the fifth century, in Sparta, where soldiers would hold feasts and give toasts on the eve of a friend’s wedding. Today, stag parties and bachelor parties aren’t much different from the Spartan celebrations, with the groom gathering all his closest buddies in one place for a weekend of drinking and bonding.
The History and Meaning of a Hen Do
"For women, historically the night before the wedding would be a great deal more tame—praying to the gods of fertility (and weather!) as well as ancient beauty rituals," says Poulter.
The symbolism of the hen generally is associated with motherhood. Hens lay eggs and are responsible for the young chicks in their brood. From ancient times through the 19th century, the hen served as a symbol of ideal motherhood in scripture and literature. There’s no record of the first hen parties, but one could assume they started happening around the same time as stag parties. Today, a hen do is a party exclusively for ladies to gather and celebrate as a group before the bride-to-be goes off to get hitched.
Stag Party vs. Bachelor Party
Stag parties and bachelor parties look very similar. In the U.K., it's not uncommon for men at stag parties to wear matching costumes when they go out drinking. They’ll go around to different pubs, chanting and singing along the way. The group will try to embarrass the groom, either by putting him in a silly outfit or even pulling pranks on him. Family members, including the groom’s dad, brothers, and cousins, are also in attendance at stag parties.
Hen Do vs. Bachelorette Party
The women at a hen do also dress up ahead of the shenanigans, which is not unlike the American tradition of wearing matching outfits or branded bachelorette gear. Hen nights might feature male strippers, shots, and dancing on tabletops. If that’s too much for the bride, she may also opt for more of a lowkey weekend getaway type of hen do, with delicious dinners, cooking and/or cocktail classes, and outdoor activities.
Poulter says there are not a lot of differences between the two celebrations. "Both have the same goal—give the bride and groom a great send-off into married life, distract them from the stress of wedding planning, make some amazing memories and have fun," she says. "Both sides of the pond will do this with a day trip or weekend away, group activities, and a lot of booze!"
She continues, "The best stag and hen dos are when the celebrations are tailored perfectly to the bride or groom—when there's clearly been a great deal of thought put into it to make it really special and meaningful for them, rather than just a generic night of drinking."