The practical jokes are planned and the rules are set for harsh pub drinking games. If you haven’t guessed it already I am indeed getting ready for a fun-filled array of night-time and day-time activities at a friend’s stag weekend.
Preparing a bachelor for married life through a night or weekend of humiliation in the company of male friends is now a multi-million pound industry. Indeed, many UK towns and cities like Blackpool, Newcastle, Bournemouth and Brighton (said to be the most popular in the UK) -have become known as prime stag party destinations. Groups also head to destinations in Europe such as Krakow, Prague and Barcelona.
Where, though, does the tradition of stag parities actually originate from?
Evidence for these early celebrations is unfortunately limited, but like many wedding traditions it seems to stretch back thousands of years. In Sparta, in 5th century BC, military comrades would toast one another on the eve of a friend’s wedding. There was plenty of feasting and drinking. The groom would say goodbye to the carefree days of bachelorhood and swear continued allegiance to his comrades.
And, according to a blog ‘the stag night was held to raise money for the married couple –coincidentally, so that the groom would have means to drink with his friends after his wife takes charge of the finances.’
There is clear evidence for stag parties during the reign of King Henry VIII where groups of men would be invited to lavish banquets. Give his eight marriages, Henry’s friends must have got quite used to the format.
As for the term ‘stag’, this is said to refer to a pre-Christian horned figure of worship that is a symbol of masculinity and of independence.
Over the years, these parties on the eves of weddings have turned extremely commercial. Last year a survey by Teletext Holidays estimated that £300m is being spent annually by Brits. What was 10 years ago simply a question of an evening of drinking down the local pub with friends (the biggest cost being the hire of a stripper) has now developed into mini-holidays with everything from go-karting to paint ball included in packed schedules. 5% of stag dos were found in the survey to last a whole week.
And, thanks to the rise of budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet over the last decade, more stag weekends are now taking place abroad. The Foreign Office estimated that 1m Brits headed overseas for this reason.
But stag parties abroad don’t always pass smoothly, with the Foreign Office estimating that about a quarter of these trips running into trouble. Indeed, the Czech tourist board has estimated 20% of all weekend crime in Prague is caused by British men on stag weekends. There was outrage, for example, a few years ago when a 34-year-old was caught urinating on a revered monument in the Latvian capital Riga and was given a custodial sentence.
Some places are saying enough is enough. Dublin started the ball rolling when some 34 pubs and hotels banned stag and hen parties in 1998.The move followed a report which revealed that these visitors were putting off tourist business, and costing the city £57m each year. Other destinations, like Amsterdam have also attempted to crack down on stag parties, but in reality it is very difficult to launch outright bans.
Yet stag parties shouldn’t always be seen by outsiders in a negative light. While some do descend into trouble, at the end of the day, they should be seen as celebrations of a boy becoming a man. Most groups won’t set out to cause trouble and disturb other visitors on holiday, they simply want to have fun. Fun and is all I hope for on this upcoming trip.