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What Is a Shivaree?

Updated on July 2, 2017
Virginia Allain profile image

I'm carrying on my mother's research into our family history. I've self-published some family memoirs & learned a lot about different eras.

Learn about the Old-Fashioned Wedding Night Custom, the Shivaree or Chivaree

I'd heard about shivarees (or chivarees) when I was a kid, but even then, the custom had mostly died out. Now very few people even know what a shivaree was. Recently my interest in this old custom was piqued by a poem written by octogenarian, Monte Manka. In his eighties, but with still vivid memories of the good old days, Monte writes poems about his youth in the 1930s and 40s.

Here's his poem, plus I'll get my mother's memories of her own shivaree to add and some research I did on the topic. What is a shivaree? Read on and you'll find out.

The old wedding photo is my grandparents, Cora (Joy) and Lorenzo Martin. I must ask my dad if they ever talked about being shivareed.

Vintage Wedding Couple is available as a poster on Zazzle by vallain

First a Poem about Chivarees by an Octogenarian

Monte Manka grew up in rural Kansas near the little town of Chelsea. Now in his eighties, he has vivid recall of events from his youth in the 1930s and 1940s. He writes delightful poems and essays about them.

I created this page to showcase his poem for him.

Chivaree at Chelsea

A poem by Monte Manka, written June 3, 2010

The farm boys and farm girls

Of Chelsea

Secretly were planning

A "Chivraee"

Forrest Chapman and Betty Corfman

Were the newlyweds

They were staying with his parents

Soon to be gotten out of bed

The Boys and Girls gathered at our house

To wait for the Chapman's to turn off the light

We lived a mile away

So the crowd could stay out of sight

Our spy rode back to our house

To let us know

That the Chapman house was dark

In a convoy of cars to the Chapmans we did go

We parked down at the highway

We walked quietly up Chapman's lane

We gathered in their front yard

Then all the noise began

A multitude of 12-gauge shotgun blasts

Shattered the silence of the night

There was movement inside the house

The Chapmans turned on those coal oil lights.

The newlyweds came out in their pajamas

The girls took charge of Betty C.

The guys took charge of Forrest C.

I was told to stay behind, doncha see.

The girls threw Betty into the horse-tank

Nightgown and all

With the moss, bugs, and horse slobbers

Those ornery gals were having a ball.

The guys took Forrest up the road a mile

Removed his PJ's and shoes

Gave him a gunny sack for cover

So not to leave him completely nude

We were invited into the house

When the groom finally arrived

There was fudge, pies, cakes and tea

Betty was glad to see Forrest survived.

After feasting on the goodies

Much to everyone's delight

The Chivaree was over

We bade the newlyweds a "quiet" goodnight

(this poem is also published on the Our Echo site)

Soon after this Chivaree, I don't remember another. They have died out here. (Monte Manka 2011)

Books about Old-Fashioned Marriage Customs

If you want to learn more about wedding traditions and history, check out some of these books. Some cover the fashions for wedding dresses and others are wedding customs.

  • Accessorizing the Bride: Vintage Wedding Finery Through the Decades
  • Something Old, Something New: What You Didn't Know about Wedding Ceremonies, Celebrations, and Customs
  • I do! I do!: The Origins of 100 Classic Wedding Traditions

The Newlins on their wedding day. These are the parents of my step-grandmother, Edna Newlin McGhee.
The Newlins on their wedding day. These are the parents of my step-grandmother, Edna Newlin McGhee. | Source

Definition of CHIVAREE from the Free Dictionary

a noisy mock serenade to a newly married couple

(made by banging pans and kettles)

Also called belling, charivari, shivaree,

callathump, callithump.

Personal Accounts of a Shivaree or Chivaree

Clarence McGhee and his bride, Ruth Vining. These are my grandparents and their wedding photo before he left for France in World War I.
Clarence McGhee and his bride, Ruth Vining. These are my grandparents and their wedding photo before he left for France in World War I. | Source

My Grandparents' 1915 Wedding

The wedding announcement for Cora and Ren Martin's wedding in 1915. They are my paternal grandparents.
The wedding announcement for Cora and Ren Martin's wedding in 1915. They are my paternal grandparents. | Source

Did My Grandparents Have a Shivaree

for their nuptials?

I wish I knew the answer to this question, but my grandparents are long gone. They died when I was in high school and college. For a short time, I stayed with my grandmother in Emporia, but didn't think to ask for old stories.

She did tell me about fixing the huge noonday meals for the threshing crews. Sadly even the details of that are growing dim in my memories.

Back in those days, when my grandparents wed, it wasn't likely that farm folk would go away on a honeymoon. There were the farm animals to care for and likely little money to spend on traveling around the country. The wedding night would have been spent at their home or the home of one of their parents.

Give Your Opinion - How would you feel about a shivaree on your wedding night

Photo of a couple at a festival in Missouri dressed in vintage wedding attire.
Photo of a couple at a festival in Missouri dressed in vintage wedding attire. | Source

Memories of Shivarees - shared by readers of this page

Gene Klingbeil on March 2017 - It was still a custom in Southern Minnesota in the early 70's. Our local friends and family surprised us one evening shortly after we got married. As we were in farm country, they came with a tractor and manure spreader (well cleaned out of course) and a bale of straw in the middle for us to sit on as they paraded us around the countryside and through the small town nearby. All the while honking their horns, yelling and banging on a big saw blade they had rigged up on a rod. What a commotion, but true custom from many years past dating back into the 19th century here.

Sue Ellen on Apr 29, 2011 - We had lots of Shivarees around Whitewater, Furley and Annelly, Kansas when I was young. We enjoyed them as the bride and groom gave us treats after we woke them up with the noise of car horns, banging on pots and pans. One that I recall in town was a little different. The groom had to push his bride down Main Street in a wheelbarrow. Ihink she even cooked pancakes for the guests.

Later on. some of the Shivaree events got sort of out of hand with tricks in the home, like flour sprinkled about, short sheeting the bed, taking labels off the food cans, etc. I never went to any after we moved from the area.

Tipi on Feb 23, 2011 - I remember participating in a shivaree when I was young, it was probably towards the end of time when they were common and it was in place of a reception or wedding ceremony. They went to the courthouse and the relatives decided they needed a little celebration. I wondered about banging on pans but it was fun! This proves a wedding can be very economical, at least in the old days!

Annie - Our neighbors who lived a mile away, were a young couple who just got married. The friends and church people planned a "Shivaree". Even the kids got to go. When the light went out, we all made noise banging on pan and whatever, may have been some gun shots. This was 50's in Missouri. They didn't know we were coming but we all had a fun time even the newlywed. They passed out candy bars. We didn't dunk anyone in water or take anyone's clothes. This was our fun out in the country before TV. We should have more creative fun these days. No torture done here. Not on wedding day or night either.

Nancy - Some who've never seen a chavaree think they are rather abusive, but I don't believe that was in the spirit of Chivaree. this is an old wedding custom, not an everyday event. It's all in good fun, I'm sure it upset some, I wouldn't call it barabaric. It is a part of my family history, I think if all my friends and family got together to "embarrass" me and my husband that would be fine. after all, these are loved ones and mine are very loving. It would be a blast.

Marion added some history - Shivaree, or, in French, charivari, is a very old custom that dates back from the Middle Ages and was very popular among our populations in that times. However, it tends to disappear, as anything that would link people to their neighborhood do.

So, I'd join the party, of course! It's fun to do and lets us know that we're appreciated by our peers.

Danielle had this suggestion - The trick is to plan ahead for the shivaree and just don't shut off all the lights until you're ready for company!

Shivaree is also the name of a band

It formed in 1999 and is an American alternative pop/rock band (according to Wikipedia).

Listen to the Music of the Band, Shivaree

Shivaree as a musical term

Shivaree was used for a performance of rough music, an English folk tradition, in the United States (from Webster's Online)

© 2010 Virginia Allain

Did you know about shivarees?

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    • Joanne Reid profile image

      Joanne Reid 4 years ago from Prince Edward Island/Arizona

      We had shivarees when I was a kid back on Prince Edward Island -- that would have been in the 1950s but the custom was dying out. I got it mixed up with a local name Cheverie back then and thought somehow that family had originated the idea.

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This is the first time I'm hearing about this tradition. The poem describes it very vividly. Sounds like fun, but I'm not sure if everyone would like it. LOL ~ stay blessed! :)

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 6 years ago

      Never heard of the things. I suppose there weren't a whole lot of kids conceived on the honeymoon night!

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 6 years ago

      I got married in Iowa where I grew up. My husband was from New Jersey. So at the wedding my brother planned one with my friends. They followed us to a motel about 60 miles away where we stopped. lol My husband is very uptight, lacks grace and humor with no ability to roll with the punches. Needless to say, he wasn't amused. But we invited them in and had an nice little party

    • JoleneBelmain profile image

      JoleneBelmain 6 years ago

      I have to admit that this is a term that I had never heard of before. Well done. I love your images.

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 6 years ago

      I was happy to discover this page about shivaree as it's one of those customs that tends do disappear and make the world go more and more individual.

      Blessed by a passing angel on Squidoo.

    • MamaRuth profile image

      MamaRuth 6 years ago

      I have read several books where shivarees are mentioned. I always thought it sounded like a terrible idea! Maybe the custom some follow of tying cans, etc. to the back of the newleyweds' car after the ceremony is a remnant of the shivaree.

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 6 years ago

      I remember the segment on the Waltons about the shivaree. Very funny episode...although I wouldn't want that done to me.

    • ZenandChic profile image

      Patricia 7 years ago

      I enjoyed this lens and the poem is cool! I think it fits the poetry category. I myself would not want a shivaree! Blessing this lens and putting it on my poetry review lens!

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Great lens about a quaint custom. Sounds a bit like a stag night which happens to the groom, the night before a wedding. Blessed by a squid angel and featured on Me?!! A Squid Angel

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 7 years ago from Central Florida

      Monte Manka sent me a message on Facebook, saying "Soon after this Chivaree, I don't remember another. They have died out. When I think about it--I'm kinda glad--would sure wreck a wedding night, doncha think? "

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 7 years ago from Central Florida

      @NanLT: Actually Nan, the memories of my mom and of Monte are in the El Dorado and Eureka areas of Kansas. Maybe you're just not old enough to have heard of these.

    • NanLT profile image

      Nan 7 years ago from London, UK

      Thank goodness this isn't a custom here. Nor in any parts I grew up in America. We'd have gotten "a look" from my mother-in-law. Anyone who has seen one, knows "the look".