Ever been handcuffed to a bus stop in Blackpool? Stripped to your boxer shorts in Brighton? Or bundled onto a North Sea ferry bound for Zeebrugge wearing a pretty pink dress?
When it comes to his final night of freedom, there is often no end to the ritual humiliation endured by the hapless groom-to-be.
If you are set to tie the knot but shudder at the thought of having your eyebrows removed by mates in matching t-shirts, salvation is finally at hand thanks to a new craze that is reinventing traditional single-sex pre-wedding parties.
The infamous stag and hen is being replaced by the ‘hag’ – a less boisterous mixed-sex celebration attended by friends and family of both the bride and groom.
Raphael Esterson held a hag party for his male and female friends to celebrate his marriage to Rebecca Kline. He says: “I enjoy spending time with just my male friends but it didn’t seem important, or appropriate, for my wedding celebrations. Holding a hag seemed the perfect solution.
“I wanted the day to be about spending quality time with my friends, who are like a family to me, enjoying their company and affirming their importance in my life before I embarked on a new family through marriage. Splitting them in two because of their gender didn’t make any sense at all.
Raphael found that by bringing the sexes together he could enjoy the best of both worlds. “There was scope for sedate activities, like spending a leisurely Shabbat together and going on country walks, in addition to having a few drinks and indulging in more uproarious behaviour in the evening.”
Raphael, who now lives in Boston, USA, continued mixing the gender roles at his wedding: “Rebecca and I didn’t have a best man. Instead many people took on different responsibilities. It was more about finding opportunities to honour my friends with meaningful roles rather than following set traditions. And fortunately a Jewish wedding provides many opportunities for guests to shape the day.”
Deborah Joseph, Editor of Brides magazine, says the hag trend is a reflection of the growing desire for weddings to show off the couple’s personalities rather than simply following convention. She says: “Wedding simchas are now far more bespoke and less rigid affairs. People nurture platonic friendships all their lives so it’s only natural to want to include everyone during the build up and on the big day.”
Eager to champion this new trend, celebrities have also embraced the hag craze. Christina Aguilera and her Jewish husband Jordan Bratman held a Halloween hag in Las Vegas in 2005. The bride wore a nurse costume while the groom dressed as a doctor. Actress Eva Longoria and basketball star Tony Parker, meanwhile, held two parties in one venue in St. Tropez last year. Eva’s girlfriends stayed on one side of the room and Tony’s remained on the other, before the groups mingled at the end of the night.
Wedding planner Emily Brookner specialises in pre-nuptial parties. She believes the hag phenomenon is due to couples choosing to get married later in life. “Stags are often viewed as rowdy and unoriginal. Guys often want a more fulfilling and memorable experience than going go-karting or paintballing, getting drunk and humiliating themselves.
“Many men in their late twenties and thirties want the event to be more about friendship than a raucous night out. After all, getting married later in life means you have many friends who are already in couples – so it makes sense to keep everyone together.”
Penelope Merricks, who runs Tigerlily Wedding Consultancy in Islington, has also seen wedding roles shift over the past decade. She says: “Couples have turned their backs on traditional etiquette in favour of a distinctive celebration reflecting their lifestyle.
“There are now so many inspirational magazines, websites and forums dedicated to the subject it is easy to feed the imagination and plan a unique celebration that nobody else has thought of.”
Penelope says that when it comes to the actual wedding itself, many couples like Raphael and Rebecca Esterson select a best woman instead of a best man.
She says: “Some grooms feel more comfortable with a best woman rather than a best man. It’s not surprising that some men consider women to be more reliable, better organisers, less likely to get drunk on the big day and a safer bet to make an appropriate speech. Why comprise this crucial role on such a special day just because tradition dictates that the best man has to be male?”
• First published in the Jewish Chronicle