What Is a Shivaree?
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.
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
Secretly were planning
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)
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!
A Charivari or Shivaree in 1922 Kansas
Personal Accounts of a Shivaree or Chivaree
- Unusual Historicals: Good Times: Shivaree - This blogger traces the shivaree back to an old French custom called a charivari.
- Early Years of Married Life - On January 3, 1924, I became the wife of John Carlos Bailey. That was a cold day too and my husband says he almost froze the day before, coming so far on horseback. (the story continues and tells of their shivaree).
- Chivaree | The Hill Weblog - Observations of life past and present from Terrapin Hill Enjoy the Simple Things.
- Chivaree Revisited | The Hill Weblog - The Hill Weblog Observations of life past and present from Terrapin Hill. This posting is a follow-up to the one above. It tells of a modern-day chivaree.
- Chivaree - rootsweb - Some things never change. The writer tells about the custom of holding a chivaree.
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
Learn More about Wedding Customs around the World
- Wedding Traditions in Greece
If you are looking for a culture whose weddings are steeped in tradition, full of joy, and lively as can be, look no further than Greece! Greek weddings are big, exciting events, packed with family, food, and dancing, as well as a beautiful marriage.
- Russian wedding customs and traditions
Russian wedding customs and traditions with kaaravai, locks etc.
- Irish Wedding Customs, Superstitions, and Lucky Trad...
We have all heard the expression “the luck of the Irish”. When a bride begins planning a wedding based on Irish customs, it is very true that much of what she does will be based on trying to bring good luck to the marriage and to shun bad luck...
- German Wedding Customs
Traditional wedding customs are an important part of weddings around the globe. Each culture has their own unique customs which make weddings meaningful and enjoyable. German weddings are rich with numerous customs which would make a wonderful...
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,
Personal Accounts of a Shivaree or Chivaree
They were still doing shivarees up in northern Kansas when I went to a Catholic wedding in a German farming community back in the 1980s. The groom's friends kidnapped the bride while she was dressing for the wedding and took her on a wheelbarrow ride through town. (I'm sure that would rank right up there as one of every bride's worst nightmares!) There were more hijinks later on after the wedding lunch, but I had already headed home by then.
My Grandparents' 1915 Wedding
Give Your Opinion - How would you feel about a shivaree on your wedding night
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.
A Death at a Shivaree - The Newspaper Calls for an End to the Custom
A DWINDLING CUSTOM
The Barbarous Charivari a Thing of the Past.
Order-Loving Communities Are Doing Away with This Idiotic Survival of Semlclvilized Times.
The ancient custom of charivari or shivaree, which still survives in rural sections of the United States, is not only a brutal one, but it led to a frightful tragedy near Watonga, 0klahoma Territory, a few days ago. A charivari party was serenading a bride and groom, Mr. and Mrs. Ray Higgins, and making deafening noises by beating on pans, etc. The couple appeared upon the porch and the groom ordered the serenaders to leave. One of the party pointed his gun at the young couple and fired. The bride's face and breast were filled with buckshot, and she died an hour later. The bridegroom was shot in the face, but not fatally, and a little brother of the bride was also wounded.
The charivari party fled, and so far none has been arrested. This outrage should go far to put an end forever to a custom that long ago should have become obsolete. The word charivari, which in local American usage is frequently corrupted into chivaree or shivaree, comes from a French word of uncertain origin, signifying a mock serenade.
The hideous aggregation of sounds that go to make up a charivai is kept up until the bridegroom appears and treats his crowd of torturers. Should he delay his appearance too long, or attempt to wear out the crowd by a refusal to appear, the outside company is apt to become riotous and often, stones are hurled through windows, and after them perhaps dead cats and rotten eggs.
The firing of blank cartridges is also considered a fitting accompaniment to the music of tin pans. horse fiddles and horns, and the fatal ending the recent case in Oklahoma probably due to this idea, for murder could hardly have been intended. But the fool with a gun that he does not believe to be loaded is a very common and dangerous kind of fool. Asylums should be set apart for such fools.
It is high time, indeed, that the communities in which the charivari still exists should take stringent measures to stamp out this idiotic survival of semi-barbarous times. That it still does survive in certain communities only points to a lack of civilization and progress in such sections, though, indeed, the custom breaks out in unexpected spots at times.
Arkansas City Daily Traveler
(Arkansas City, Kansas)
01 Aug 1899, Tue • Page 7
Discussion of the Pros And Cons of a Shivaree
My sister commented, "Maybe no worse than the current custom of shoving cake and icing into the new bride or groom's face."
Here are my own thoughts on it, "I must agree that I would find a shivaree rather traumatic, but my mother said theirs was expected and they had refreshments ready to make a party of it."
A friend had mixed feelings about a shivaree, "Well, now, if it was my ex-husband, I'd hope they'd take him far far away. If it was my present love, I wouldn't be too happy."
One woman had very strong feelings and had this to say, "This is the most BARBARIC custom I've ever heard of. Being physically and emotionally tortured is not my idea of "fun." I grew up in a home where we children were regularly "shivareed" that is beaten, starved and forced to beg for it all to stop. This custom should NEVER have existed. I'm glad it's gone. Had anyone done this to me on wedding night or any other time, I'd have them all charged with assault and battery and then sued them for violation of my person, my civil rights and intent to cause emotional distress. I would never participate in this kind of blatant cruelty. Such a horrible tradition deserves to be gone."
A male friend said, "I'd make sure that no one would know the location we'd be at on our wedding night!"
My friend Joan said that her husband would have gone ballistic.
Another friend who married in England shared, "Our wedding reception was held at my mother-in-law's home where we were living at the time. I think this would have been a bit much for them."
Accounts from Old Newspapers
Other names for a shivaree are "bridegroom hazing" and "horning parties." The friends would arrive usually after dark with big whistles or horns and old tin dishpans which they would beat on with a stick.
One described how to make noise with a rosined plank. Just select a sturdy fence board, add some nails to make sure it stayed attached to the fence post. Then put rosin on the edge of the board. Use another plank and rosin one side of that. Draw that across the fence board to make quite a noise.
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)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2010 Virginia Allain