The trees are blooming; the birds are singing; the newspaper society sections are thick with marriage announcements. As the last soggy weeks of spring give way to the balmy days of summer, wedding season has arrived and with it an onslaught of bachelor parties. With an estimated 2.2 million weddings in the U.S. each year, providing for the groom’s sendoff is big business. Dozens of websites cater to the needs of the bachelor-party planner . I-Volution, Inc. which owns two of the largest bachelor-party sites on the web, say their websites get about 4 million visitors a year 35% of whom focus on the Las Vegas packages. Just witness the success of the hit film The Hangover, whose tale on a prenuptial Las Vegas jaunt gone horribly awry has topped the box office for two straight weeks, pulling down more than $105.4 million.
The bachelor party, however, goes back much further than you’d likely expect. It’s rooted in ancient history as early as the fifth century B.C. It is believed that the ancient Spartans were the first to make a celebration out of the groom’s last night as a single man. Spartan soldiers held a dinner in their friend’s honor and made toasts on his behalf with, one assumes, a Spartan sense of decorum. Since then the events have generally grown more raucous. In 1896, a stag party thrown by Herbert Barnum Seeley a grandson of P.T. Barnum for his brother was raided by police after rumors circulated that a famous bellydancer would be performing nude. Before his wedding to Gloria Hatrick, Jimmy Stewart’s infamous bash at the Beverly Hills hangout Chasen’s included midgets popping out of a serving dish. The fun can get out of hand, however: in recent years bachelor party hijinks have led to numerous Hollywood breakups. Paris Hilton accused beau Paris Lastis of cheating on her at his own bachelor party an alleged indiscretion which similarly doomed Mario Lopez and Ali Landry. Nick Lachey’s reported dalliance with a porn star at a friend’s party while it was denied sparked rumors about a rift with wife Jessica Simpson before their eventual split in 2005. And Peter Berg’s dark 1998 film Very Bad Things should be required viewing for grooms-to-be about the importance of good behavior .
The term bachelor previously meaning a young knight or a student with a bachelor’s degree first appeared referring to an unmarried man in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the 14th century. The term bachelor party didn’t appear until 1922, however, when it was first used in the Scottish publication Chambers’s Journal of Literature, Science and Arts to describe a “jolly old” party. The event is known by different names in different countries: a stag party in the UK, Ireland and Canada, a buck’s party in Australia, and, with typical panache, the enterrement de vie de garçon in France .
In the past a bachelor party could commonly involve a black-tie dinner hosted by the groom’s father, with toasts to the groom and the bride. The more recent traditions of hazing, humiliation and debauchery often consuming entire weekends and involving travel to an exotic destination such as Las Vegas or its nearest available facsimile became a staple of bad ’80s sex comedies.
By the sexual revolution of the 1960s, women had launched their own version of the pre-wedding festivities: the bachelorette party. Prior to the late 19th century, women were limited to bridal showers, the main function of which was to acquire a dowry and gifts to prepare them for marriage. Bachelorette parties allowed women the opportunity to express their own sexual freedom with drinking games and strippers. Other couples, uncomfortable with the expectations of debauchery, celebrate their last night together in combined stag and doe parties an idea that’s grown popular as more couples live together and marry later in life. Bachelor parties are now as diverse as the bachelors involved, ranging from Las Vegas trips to a casual party with friends and/or your fiancée. First and foremost, the event is an important step in saying goodbye to one’s single life and relieving pre-wedding jitters. There doesn’t even have to be a party: some men now opt for “groom’s showers,” in which they acquire their own dowry of foosball tables and power tools.
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