The Stag and Hen Parties

The Stag and Hen parties are older Scottish wedding traditions and you had to be built of stout stuff to survive these wedding traditions. By today’s standards, these are actually hazing. But in adapted forms, these wedding customs continue ~ Foot Washing, Creelin’ o’ the Bridegroom, the Hen Party, Chantie Jumping.


Foot Washing

The women of the Highlands usually went barefoot, year round. In the original wedding tradition of foot washing, the bride was gently treated to a cleansing of her feet, which probably needed it. The groom and his friends crowded around the door to watch this wedding tradition.

When the groom’s turn came, his treatment wasn’t so gentle. After wetting his feet, soot and feathers were smeared wherever they would stick. As a wedding tradition, the soot was a symbol of home and hearth, while feathers came from a food source.

Over time and with newer products available, this wedding tradition has changed. The soot has been replaced by boot blacking or shoe polish, engine oil, or chocolate syrup.

See an example of this wedding tradition in Braemar, Scotland in 1948. This black and white silent film clip from the BBC, shows a couple, after their foot washing. In this case, the bride and the groom were tarred and feathered, then escorted around town as a part of their stag and hen parties tradition.

Look at the Pre-Wedding Customs Video Clip. While you’re there, also take a look at film clip #1, A Crofter’s Life in Shetland. It shows some wedding traditions of 1931.


Creelin’ of the Bridegroom

As the groom in more recent days endures jokes and pranks at his expense, so too did the Highland groom. One stag and hen parties wedding tradition was for a large basket, or creel, to be filled with stones and tied to the bridegroom's back. He had to carry it around the entire town, unless his bride agreed to kiss him (a rather nice wedding tradition). If she did, his friends allowed him to escape from the creelin'. Otherwise, he had to continue until he had completed a circuit of the town.

The baskets being carried are creels
Image courtesy R.R. McIan, The Highlanders at Home


Over time the Foot Washing and the Creelin’ were combined into one wedding tradition. The groom would be stripped of all his clothing, except underwear. Next one of the blackenings used in the foot washing would be smeared over his body. Then he would be feathered and tied overnight to a lamppost.

One modern variation of this wedding tradition was on an oil rig in the North Sea, where the groom was stripped and oiled, then tied overnight to the rig. What a Stag and Hen Parties tradition that was!


The Hen Party

At one time there was a wedding tradition where friends and neighbors gave food gifts to the bride. These could be used at the wedding feast or in her new home. Often included were hens, dried fish, salted mutton, oatmeal, butter, and whiskey.

A few days before the wedding, there would be a party to pluck and prepare the hens and other food for the wedding. Of course, music and singing, general hilarity, and some jesting were all a part of this wedding tradition.

The judicious bride saved these special feathers to stuff future pillows and comforters for her home.

In modern times, the Hen Party, Takin’ Out o’ the Bride and Chantie Jumping are combined into one wedding tradition. It can span one evening or a whole weekend, with lots of funny costumes, jokes, and ribaldry.


Chantie Jumping

The chantie, or chamber pot, had salt in it, symbolizing prosperity and plenty. As a wedding tradition, at intersections or busy areas, the chantie was placed on the street and the bride would jump over the pot. People passing by dropped in money and articles associated with the wedding traditions, in exchange for kisses.

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