Thank Goodness We Don’t Have to Do That Anymore: Shivaree

This isn’t really a shivaree [Via Flickr user greenmelinda]

Shivaree (charivari) is a practice in which people serenade a newly wedded couple in a cacophonous manner by yelling and banging pots and pans outside their window in the middle of the night.

The traditional European custom of charivari (shivaree is the common American spelling) was a way to punish those who had married against the community’s wishes- older men marrying too young women, new widow/ers getting married too soon, etc.

As the custom migrated to America, it became more celebratory than punitive, though sometimes it was considered a minor hazing for those who had gone against the norm in their marriage. Often it was a bawdy celebration, designed to interrupt the consummation of the marriage. Like trick or treaters, the revelers wouldn’t leave until offered some kind of refreshment.

I first encountered the custom in one of the Little House on Rocky Ridge books- the sequel series to Little House on the Prairie about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter Rose. In the book, one of their farmhands gets married and that night all the neighbors go to the newlywed’s house and bang on pots and pans until the couple comes out and gives them snacks.

Shivarees mostly took place in the early to mid 1800’s and mostly in small, rural communities. I have, however, found records of the practice continuing in Canada well into the 1970’s. By that point, the practice was used to make a new bride feel welcome to the neighborhood if she had come from far away. Sometimes it was used  as a “reception” if there hadn’t been one for the wedding.

The expectation that the couple have enough food for the revelers was part of the gendered expectation of a wife to have refreshments ready at a moment’s notice for all who might drop by- definitely a less festive aspect of the custom.

Sometimes the shivareers would play pranks on the couple instead of making noise- filling their drawers with rice for example.

There is some evidence that the custom has evolved into the practice of kidnapping the bride at the reception and making the groom pay to get her back. Though I think that this custom is completely different and comes from a different ethnic tradition entirely. The pranking custom is still common among some social groups, I believe (did anyone have pranks played on them on their wedding night or while they were on their honeymoon? Tell me in the comments!). You would think that tying cans and shoes to the “get away” car would be part of this, but that comes from a more superstitious tradition of scaring away evil spirits.

So tell me, who else has heard of a shivaree??

3 thoughts on “Thank Goodness We Don’t Have to Do That Anymore: Shivaree

  1. A shivaree,as we did it, was to get some pieces of iron and tin and bang it together to
    create some loud noise outside a house of someone who just moved in to their
    new residence, to be welcomed in for refreshments and view their new home.

  2. Yes, my wife and I were treated to a shivaree a week after our wedding. We were staying with some friends in small cottage on their property. At the appointed hour, a hoard of folks descended outside the cottage and we were forced to take a ride into town. Whereupon someone brought a wheelbarrow and I was forced to wheel my young bride down the full length of main street.(over a mile) The street was well lit, so there’s no telling how many witnessed my wife’s midnight ride, or took pictures in our pajamas.

    Rabbit Runner (RR)

  3. I remember my parents doing those in the mid sixties – the noise makers, but the main prank was always to leave a goat or other farm animal at the couple’s place.

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