The Shivaree

I've had a few questions about something that was mentioned in the last chapter of Comfort and Joy and will be a large part of the next chapter so here is a little info:


The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

PRONUNCIATION: shv-r, shv-r

NOUN: Midwestern & Western U.S. A noisy mock serenade for newlyweds. Also called Regional belling, Regional horning, Regional serenade. Also called regionally Regional charivari.

ETYMOLOGY: Alteration of charivari.

REGIONAL NOTE: Shivaree is the most common American regional form of charivari, a French word meaning “a noisy mock serenade for newlyweds” and probably deriving in turn from a Late Latin word meaning “headache.” The term, most likely borrowed from French traders and settlers along the Mississippi River, was well established in the United States by 1805; an account dating from that year describes a shivaree in New Orleans: “The house is mobbed by thousands of the people of the town, vociferating and shouting with loud acclaim…. [M]any [are] in disguises and masks; and all have some kind of discordant and noisy music, such as old kettles, and shovels, and tongs…. All civil authority and rule seems laid aside” (John F. Watson). The word shivaree is especially common along and west of the Mississippi River. Its use thus forms a dialect boundary running north-south, dividing western usage from eastern. This is unusual in that most dialect boundaries run east-west, dividing the country into northern and southern dialect regions. Some regional equivalents are belling, used in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan; horning, from upstate New York, northern Pennsylvania, and western New England; and serenade, a term used chiefly in the South Atlantic states.

The Shivaree (chivaree, charivari) also known in some regions as the callithump, or "belling the bride" is a noisy, boisterous mock serenade, of the bridal couple. Usually given by friends and relatives. A charivari was a custom that was practiced up unitl the 1950 in many parts of the US. Descendent from the Scottish/Irish border prank of "bride abduction" on the wedding night, wherein rivaling clans would abduct the bride. The settlers brought it west in the 1800s carrying this tradition with them just as the first European settlers brought the age old tradition from their mother countries of England, Scotland, Germany and Russia. In some of these countries, the tradition involved escorting the couple into their bedchamber and often staying the night with them.
The chivaree is a playful but rowdy gathering in which a newlywed couple's friends make their wedding night a nightmare filled with noise. Banging on pots, pans and washtubs, ringing bells outside the location the couple was staying was the standard. Early charivaris (Shivarees, chivarees) included the shooting of guns and an invitation from the bridal couple to come inside with cigars for the gentlemen and lemonade or tea for the ladies. In some parts of the U.S. the bride was carried around in a tub at times, and the groom was ridden on a rail. In still others, the groom placed the bride in a wheel barrow and pushed her around the town square. The charivari was anciently in France a regular wedding custom, all bridal couples being thus serenaded.
As times changed and more couples traveled to distant locales on a honeymoon trip, upon their return groups of friends met them with an improvised "Bull Band." For the bull band, anything that made noise was a suitable instrument -- cowbells, horns, dishpans or whatever was handy.
Now days, the only shivaree is the traditional decoration of the "get away" vehicle of the couple, with shaving cream and tin cans tied to the bumper, vasoline on the gear shift, bananas in the tail pipe, soaping the windows, then following them down the street in a parade, with everyone honking their horns, and if it can be pulled off, fixing up their marriage bed for their return from the honeymoon. Short-sheeting the bed, removal of slats, crackers in the bed, removing all the labels from canned goods, etc. Because of the automobile, couples can get into their cars and make a quick get away and drive off to a romantic honeymoon destination-often the airport to begin their journey. The decoration of the newlywed couple's car is a tradition, which derives from chivaree. In a way when people decorate the couple's vehicle and send them off with sprays of birdseed and noise, what they are really doing is serenading them or giving them a modernized version of the old chivaree.
3 Responses
  1. LMM's first published short story was called "Our Charivari." i didn't know if you knew that or not, but i thought your post was especially appropriate :)

  2. Beatle Chic Says:

    Wow, that was really interesting to read. I never knew that. Guess that's my history lesson for the day! ;)

  3. I never knew about the short story. I wish that I could read it. I have yet to finish that chapter and would love to incorporate some LMM there.