Hen parties date back to Ancient Greece when they were called the ‘Proaulia’. For a few days before the wedding the bride to be would spend time with her mother, female relatives and friends. They would have a feast and hold rituals getting rid of childhood belongings and offering them to the virgin goddess Artemis which she was leaving for Aphrodite’s sphere of sexuality. Changing from childhood into womanhood and martial life.

The start of the term Hens:

In slang hens means woman, this term dates back from the 1620’s. The 1800’s was the first to use of the phrase ‘Hen party’ to signify a gathering of women.

The earliest known use of the noun ‘Hen Party’  is in the 1870s. Its connotation was different though. It was used in America for a gathering of women from middle & upper classes; they would play cards, have afternoon tea and maybe a glass of champagne! Then about 30 years later these gatherings started to become popular in the UK. That changed during World War II when women started to work more due to the men being at war. This was the start of a big social change. So with many women wanting to still work after the war, the popularity of these gatherings on an afternoon wained. Though the name remained to describe an all female gathering.

It wasn’t until the 1970’s, after the sexual revolution of the 1960’s that the traditions of the hen party as we know it today began to emerge in the UK workplace; though they were still not common. Before this British society was more conservative about sex. Marriage was an awakening about sex and the bride would usually be moving from her family home into a home with her husband. This sexual awakening would be evident in the hens party which would traditionally be in the brides workplace, often factories. It would be the end of her working life so it focused on the fact she was withdrawing from work to a life of housework and motherhood. The bride to be would be dressed up with a veil or as a mocked up bride and paraded around to receive well wishes and goodbyes. She would sometimes have her coat covered with messages and sexual innuendo’s and she would wear it down to the pub.

During the decades after, hen party celebrations in the Western world gained more popularity. With the rise of gender equality women wanted something like the male stag party and started to resemble what we think of as a hens party today. Now they don’t represent the end of a bride’s work-life, they are now a chance for family and friends to say farewell to their single life. It is a rite of passage within western marital traditions.

In America ‘Hen Party’ is a term for a social gathering of women. They also use the phrase bachelorette party, which is based on the centuries old bachelor party. This was historically a dinner given for the groom shortly before the wedding. Bachelor was an old medieval term for a Knight in training. It was used in the 14th Century in ‘Geoffrey Chaucer’s’ ‘The Canterbury Tales’ referring to an unmarried man. They will also often hold a bridal shower which are not as common in the UK and Australian customs.

While hen parties reputation as an evening of debauchery have persisted since the 1980’s, it is now more about female bonding and are held more in the style of the bride and her friends social circle. They now entail so many different forms of entertainment events and activities.

why the term Hens?

There is debate over this! These are three theories:

  • Hen could represent a female chicken, hens often stick together like a hens party would on a night on the town!
  • The word ‘Hen’ hasn’t always meant a female chicken. In medieval English it was any type of female bird. So hence where the term ‘hen party’ came to represent a gathering of women. And ‘Stag’ was not just a deer, that was also any male type of animal.
  • Another theory comes from the East, where henna is painted on the skin of the bride in a ‘Henna’ ceremony. It was believed that this was purifying. it was put on the brides hands and feet the night before the wedding as it was believed to help cool the body and keep the bride calm before and on her wedding day. The henna symbolises good health and prosperity in the marriage.

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