(See introduction and disclaimer to this series here, and other posts in the series here.)
What is the tradition?
Shortly before the wedding (more traditionally the night before; now more likely to be a week before or even earlier whenever it's convenient), the groom and his attendants get together for a bachelor party, and the bride and her attendants for a bachelorette party. The latter being modeled after the former, it's a chance for the soon-to-be spouses to have "one last night of freedom", spending time drinking and engaging in revelry that often involves strippers or similar entertainment. The bachelorette party might also include a great deal of penis gaggery, as well as sashes and/or tiaras to identify the bride.
In more recent years, there seems to be a trend towards bachelor/bachelorette weekends/trips, rather than merely a one-night party. While perhaps partially due to the fact of people being spreadout from family and friends, so guests would have to travel anyway, it also feels like an aspect of the weddings being totally overblown to be a big deal.
What is the origin of the tradition?
It probably existed very early; it is believed that the ancient Spartans celebrated a groom's last night as a single man, with toasts and honor. Over time, that celebration became more and more rowdy.
The bachelorette party originally existed as more of a ladies' luncheon or tea with the women in the family and/or bridal party to celebrate the upcoming wedding. It evolved into something more like the bachelor party as sexual norms loosened and women felt able to engage in similar behavior to the men.
Why do people still follow it?
I think there are two reasons, one more innocuous than the other. Strippers aside, it is an event that allows for those closest to each spouse to celebrate them directly, to get together and just have fun at a time when they've probably been stressing about the wedding.
The sense of it being a "free pass" to do stuff otherwise probably not ok while in a relationship, while incredibly weird to me, kind of makes sense. Even if you just have a normal amount of "whoa, I'm committing to one person for the rest of my life!", wanting to feel freedom from that for one last time makes some sense.
Why is that crap?
Wanting some freedom just before a big commitment makes sense; I don't think following through on that makes sense. You're not actually "free" to do whatever you want just because you haven't signed the marriage license yet! You're still in a committed relationship. Your "last night of freedom" is actually the night before you first date, or maybe before you have a DTR, or perhaps before getting engaged. The night it's definitely NOT, is the night before your wedding.
If you're ok with your significant other seeing strippers, then that's your choice, but how is being ok with them seeing strippers ok one night, and not the next? Either be ok with that kind of entertainment or don't, but it shouldn't be contingent on signing paperwork, when you're in a committed relationship either way.
What am I doing with this tradition?
We didn't do anything along these lines. Abe had an outing that was called a bachelor party, but it was just him and a friend playing disc golf and getting some beers. Nothing about the fact that we were about to get married changed how we each felt about participating in such events, or how we would feel about the other participating in such events.
How did/will you handle this tradition?
I would love to have a lively debate and conversation in the comments! Please join in!
Dissenting opinions (from the post itself or other commenters) are welcome, but I reserve the right to delete any comments that personally attack me or any other commenter.