Columnist Ben Fahy gives a man’s take on weddings. In this column: how to navigate the whirlwind of social events surrounding a wedding.
We are social beasts, and getting married is one of life's most social occasions. But while organising the day itself sits highest in most couples' minds, it's just one aspect of the revelry when you decide to shack up for good. So it also pays to think about other occasions you might have to organise - or take part in.
Plucking up the courage to ask the question (and getting the answer you want) is worth celebrating with a clink or two. Traditionally, the engagement party was hosted at the bride's house. But these days, couples tend to do what feels right, so it can run the gamut from a few snarlers and drinks in the backyard to something of a wedding in disguise, with formal attire and fancy hors d'oeuvres.
If you plan to keep the nuptials small, hosting an engagement party is a great way of inviting 'fringe friends' and some of your crazy relatives (because every couple has them) to share in the celebration without having to earmark a wedding invite for them.
The next events you have to think about (read: fear) are the hen party and stag night. Thankfully - or, depending on your friends, worryingly - organising these gatherings is usually totally out of your control.
The stag night is a tradition thought to go back as far as the fifth century in Sparta. In French the phrase means, quite appropriately, 'the burial of the life as a boy'. This shindig has evolved considerably from the days of black-tie dinners at the father of the groom's house. It's also evolved from the days of getting blind drunk and ties naked to a power pole by your 'friends' - although judging by the groom-to-be I saw recently in Queenstown airport, dancing in front of confused tourists wearing only white underwear, a cape and a ball and chain tied to his leg, ritualistic humiliation of the stag is still alive and well. Many stags stoically embrace the pain, but there are limits, so if you would rather head away with your closest mates to go mountain biking/skiing/golfing/fishing, let it be known.
Women once had bridal showers to, as the euphemism goes, 'prepare them for married life' - or, more bluntly, 'get a bit of extra loot to set them on their way'. This is still common in the US and Canada, but in the 1960s, the ladies decided men shouldn't be the only ones having all the fun. So the bachelorette, or hen, party was born. These range from the phallic-straws-and-funny-outfits party to a day of classy wineries and good food, so again, don't be afraid to state your tastes.
These parties are often important milestones for parents too, so it's nice to extend the invitation to them. Their presence sometimes reduces the level of punishment meted out to the stag or hen, too.
Today, most brides and grooms live together before they're married and share a large number of friends, so having a combined stag and hen party seems to be more common. On my 'special day', the stags and hens collided; given the girls had enjoyed a fairly dignified wine-tasting day, while we'd been on a 'Bencathlon' (involving rigged sporting events like the ski-boot toss, the 100m-dash-with-an-open-beer-in-your-hand and throw-the-sauced-sausage-at-my-face), it wasn't pretty.
My wife and I fondly remember going out for a casual dinner with the bridal party and our immediate families the night before the wedding (which traditionally coincides with a wedding rehearsal). The days leading up to the event are hectic, so it's nice to down tools and take a breather.
Another increasingly popular option is the day-after shindig, whether it be a brunch, BBQ or a picnic. There simply isn't time to have meaningful conversations with everyone at your wedding, so at this event you can relax, learn who embarrassed themselves the night before and talk with your guests, especially those who travelled from further afield.
There are already so many elements to a wedding that, for some, adding more potential stress seems nigh on masochistic. But these events can be as simple as you choose, and a few extra gatherings allow you to squeeze out as much joy from the occasion as possible. Love is in the air, so make the most of it.