Why stag parties are the new conscription

A friend got engaged over Easter, ruining what had otherwise been a perfectly enjoyable break.

Munching on chocolate eggs, I nervously anticipated the inevitable moment when an email will arrive with the two words that strike terror into the hearts of all men: stag party.

Nothing illustrates the difference between men and women like their approach to congratulating friends on impending nuptials.

Hen parties gather at nail salons, where they have their fingertips decorated as they sip cava. They then move to a restaurant, where they swap treasured memories of the bride and take turns to speak about how much they love each other.

Stag parties gather in Dublin airport, where they struggle through pints at 6am. They then move to northern England, where they attempt to murder their close friend.

The stag party tradition goes back to a time when people got married at the age of 18. Drowning in alcohol was considered fun. Nowadays, people get married at 40 and would secretly much rather mark the occasion with a two-day binge of Scandi-noir.

Each of these men would much rather be at home watching Series 3 of The Bridge.

Like all traditions – Christmas presents or voting – we’re locked into a cycle none of us can escape from.

Being invited to a stag party is the closest thing modern generations know to conscription. War movies of tomorrow will show wounded men emerging from the ruins of European pubs, the best man defiantly slurring, “We shall drink on the beaches. We shall drink in the fields and in the streets.”

It’s a pain no woman can know. Twenty four hours of childbirth is nothing compared with 48 hours in a nightclub in Newcastle.

There are two features of a modern stag. First is the costume. This is an English tradition dating back to the House of Lords.

The Irish have appropriated the tradition, having realised that forcing their friend into a tutu is an appropriate way to prepare him for all the other things he will soon to have to do against his will, such as watching endless seasons of Room to Improve.

Stag party costumes: an old English tradition dating back to the foundation of the House of Lords.

The second feature is the game. This is played on the morning of the second day, a time when the participants are at their physically weakest since birth. The game is designed to prove that the groom can sumo wrestle with a hangover, a perfect metaphor for the family life he is embarking upon.

This was all enjoyable for the first batch of friends to get married. We were in our twenties. Our brains weren’t yet fully formed.

These days, when a friend gets engaged, I delete their phone number and engage in mild defamation of their character on the internet. A lawsuit is small beer compared with the alternative.

The good news is that this tradition may be on the way out. Younger couples are opting for mixed gender pre-wedding parties. Women may be about to experience the downside of equality. The right to vote and work is all fun and games until someone has to drink tequila out of a shoe.

Apparently, however, that’s not what happens any more. Couples in their 20s want their parties to be like their toilets: gender neutral and vomit free. These mixed gender parties are known as ‘sten’ or ‘hag’ parties.

I suspect this new tradition is less about de-genderising proceedings and more about dragging out the celebration even further. A wedding now consists of a pre-stag, a stag, a sten, then the actual wedding, followed by a barbeque at which stage you’re fortunate if even the bride and groom are still on speaking terms.

It makes you long for the days when an Irish wedding comprised of a quick transfer of cattle followed by the ceremonial bottling of emotions.

The upside of my friend’s inevitable stag party is that he has been the ringleader for many of ours. There are up to a dozen men who have suffered cruel and unusual behaviour at his hands.

When his moment comes, there will be no shortage of suitors to apply the finishing touches. Revenge, after all, is a dish best eaten in a tutu.

Published in The Times Ireland Edition, April 5. 

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