A Retired Ritual

Some traditions vanish before you think to tell your children about them. On the other hand, I doubt very much that my children or grandchildren would be interested in hearing about the anachronistic ritual of a chivaree. [Alteration of the French word charivari, with a Latin root meaning “headache.”]

I participated in one chivaree, or shivaree as it’s spelled in some backwater regions of the country. I barely remember it. Mom got a few of us kids and passed out pots, pans, kettles, or anything metal along with a metal spoon, and herded us two blocks south to a basement house. We banged on those metal kitchen cookware instruments as loud as we could. I must have been very young because I don’t remember who the newly-wed couple was.

What I do remember is that the couple who were being serenaded by our racket were just married, and mom called it a chivaree. That is the first and last time I was ever involved in such a ritualistic, yet enthralling, activity.

A chivaree was a traditional custom in the Midwest, the hills of the Carolinas, and parts of New England in the 19th century, and it continued into the first part of the 20th century. I may have attended the final chivaree in the early 1950s.

“Shivaree is defined as ‘a loud and purposely frightening community party, forced upon newlyweds a short time after their wedding.’” It often took place around midnight, or at least after dark, and besides the banging of pots and pans, guns were fired into the air and people pounded on the windows. The one I attended was in the evening, probably right after the sun set and there were no guns.

The couple subjected to the chivaree are expected to invite all the revelers in for alcoholic drinks and candy for the kids. I don’t recall getting any candy, but I can guarantee that the adults with us kids that night partied hardy, while the kids were sent home.

Depending upon where you lived a chivaree might be called “bellings,” “hornings,” or “serenades.” But the tradition is similar in all instances.

I can’t imagine you could successfully chivaree some couple in today’s world. Try that in a suburban atmosphere. We already know that the activity in an urban area would have you in handcuffs before the couple could make it to the door to ask you to keep it down. If everyone in a small town was in on the secret, it might work out, but I wouldn’t count on it.

“The merits of a shivaree were numerous. Everyone in the community participated-young and old, male and female. The newlyweds certainly met their neighbors in a friendly if raucous manner and were, in turn, properly initiated into the community. Another important feature of the custom was the collective good cheer and feeling of community everyone shared.”

The ritual often began a little after the happy couple had turned off the lights on their wedding night, or shortly thereafter.

Considering all the old-time rituals that have died out through the years, I’m glad that this one disappeared. Or did it.


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One Response to A Retired Ritual

  1. Lorna Fellom says:

    Good Memories!

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