A hen party is a festive celebration held before a wedding, and attended by the bride and her female friends. These parties are basically the female equivalent of the male bachelor party or stag party. Known as "bachelorette parties" in the United States, and "stagette parties" in Canada, they are called "hen parties" or "hen nights" in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia.
This type of party is usually planned by the brides’ closest friends, often the maid of honor or bridesmaids. The festivities can be held in a public place, such as a restaurant or bar, or may be held in a private home or rented room. The location often depends on the amount of exuberance expected of guests. Some celebrations can get quite wild, with frenzied dancing and inappropriate behavior. Alternately, a day of drinking champagne at a day spa would be considered a tame version.
Unlike a bridal shower with young girls in attendance, the hen party is strictly for adult women. Bringing a gag gift is de rigueur, with lighthearted male-bashing a favorite theme. Gifts are meant to cause a bit of blushing and gales of laughter, if possible. Drinking of alcohol and freeform dancing may be encouraged as the party unfolds. The women will “let down their hair,” but generally watch out for one another to see that no one is ever in danger.
There is a wide range of options when it comes to planning the entertainment for a hen party. The general idea is to celebrate the last moments of single life and the new life that will unfold. Planners will be wise to listen carefully to the likes and dislikes of the bride, and let the nature of her personality set the tone for the festivities.
An afternoon cocktail party with a few naughty games will suffice for some brides, while others prefer a wild night of dancing and slamming shots. On the other hand, some brides will completely shun the idea of a raucous night of drinking in favor of a spa day with the bridal party, including soothing massages, manicures and pedicures, and other lavish pampering.
The word “hen” in the title is a reference to female chickens. In the U.S., the term is considered somewhat derogatory toward women, and the time of sexual equality, any gathering of women and girls might have been classified as a hen party. The parties held by today's women have nothing to do with the innocent quilting bees of old, except for female bonding.