In my vast experience of British hen parties (aka. my own), I’d learned that there should be two running themes; penises and alcohol. Presumably because you’re giving up non-exclusivity on the former for the rest of your life, and probably need to drink a little more to forget such an inconvenient truth. Yet for impartiality’s sake, I should disclose to you that the sodden and infamous US/UK style ‘hen do’–according to wikipedia–is usually in keeping with the style of the social circle. Some ladies’ hen parties might therefore be drinking tea with scones and cucumber sandwiches… obviously I don’t know any of those ladies.
So when one of my good friends announced her forthcoming nuptials, I thought I knew what I was in for. Gag gifts loaded with sexual innuendo, rather too many sambucca shots, and strippers. What goes on at the hen-do, stays at the hen-do.
Hen-dos first came about in Greek times as marriage became an important device to ensure property succession and the celebrations were part and parcel of a woman’s transition from childhood to adulthood (at which time she could presumably be traded for more money). Surprisingly the name is thought to have come about derived from the word ‘henna’–as opposed to the clucking kind–the reddish substance drawn in patterns on the bride’s hands which has significant importance in the East and is considered capable of purifying the bride and hold her risk-free from evil[ref]https://www.mychocolate.co.uk/blog/why-is-a-hen-party-called-a-hen-party-and-a-stag-do-a-stag-do/[/ref]. Although why a bride would need to be protected from marriage is a debate for another article.
For a Swedish hen-do or möhippa (mö – maiden, hippa – party) secrecy is paramount. The bride is literally abducted on false pretext for a day of activities which last an entire 24 hours. Since it is such a respected rite of passage, taking time off work is acceptable and since this is Sweden, it’s also a paid vacation day of which there are plenty. My friend got engaged eight years ago and is approaching forty. She and her future husband have already had their kids, who play with our kids. There’s really no stigma around living in sin here. There’s a perfectly pleasant word for living-together-but-unmarried and long engagements are common in Sweden, as they can serve as a state of togetherness for life not only as a precursor of marriage.
For my part, I organised the opening brunch and was fully prepared with mountains of smoked salmon and eggs–because Sweden–Prosecco–because hen-do–plenty of crusty bread and cheese to soak up the alcohol–because me–plus some ‘hen do’ dares imposed upon my bridal party by my bridesmaids from my own indomitably penis and alcohol themed party fifteen years prior. The pressure at the time to have one last fling, was immense. So the dares ranged from the mildly alarming…
- Stand on a table and flash your underwear at three men
…to the slightly more ‘grounds-for-divorce’
- Collect five different types of condom from five different men and use two by the end of the night
But I kept these dares out of sight, until such time as we’d have drunk enough to make us forget we’d ever entertained the possibility of biting strange hairy ankles under the table. Probably around the time the stripper made an appearance, I mused.
And yet despite the Prosecco and our best attempt at dressing the bride-to-be as Daenerys Targaryen in a corset with a cuddly dragon safety pinned to it, the party remained sedate enough for us to walk down to the ferry boat three hours later and proceed on the hour long journey to an activity centre where they allowed us to raucously ride mechanical bulls, throw battle axes, shoot arrows and fire machine air-guns. Welcome to the Swedish hen do–not a penis in sight–but where instead you can dress up as a pantomime cow to play five-a-side football.
These types of activities are the norm in Sweden (as eight other bachelor/ette parties who were booked at the same time as us could testify) and alcohol with machine guns is ill-advised. After two hours of shooting stuff we trooped upstairs to change into our evening gear and I was offered my first taste of nudity. It was not, as at my hen party a bronzed and oiled Tarzan, but a gaggle of females mocking my British prudery by brazenly shaking their tits in my face (some kind of Swedish female bonding ritual?!?) before stomping off to the communal showers just off the mixed sauna whilst I discreetly washed my armpits in the loo.
We barbecued, because just as soon as the weather is good enough to cook outside in Sweden you do, shared memories honouring the bride to be and gave her a beautiful silver pendant for her charm bracelet. It was not penis shaped, but there was plenty of alcohol and lots of laughter. And as I remembered my own patchy, guilt-ridden hen-do I was glad for my friend whether it was because of her long engagement, whether it’s because we’re now in our forties, or whether we’re in Sweden that the pressure for one last fling and indiscriminate sexual debauchery never figured once in our warm and loving celebration of her consciously monogamous choices.