21 June 2010


Recently a cousin of mine sent me a newspaper item about a family marriage from 1942. It contained a word I wasn't familiar with.


I have been married three times and not once have I received a charivari. I asked my mother if she had received a charivari when she married my father. She must have thought that it was another of my family history pop quizzes because her reply was a heavy sigh and a dramatic eye-roll. As usual, I am on my own here.

A little bit of research and polling some members of my local genealogy society gave me the answer.

A charivari is not a gift. Well sort of not a gift. It seems that a charivari is a celebration of sorts. Shortly after a couple are married, a group of their friends will get together in the wee hours of the morning. Armed with pots and pans or whatever noise-maker was handy, they quietly surround the residence of the newlyweds. Once in place, a cue is given and then all hell breaks loose. These friends start whooping and hollering, banging on the pots and pans until the couple wake up and come outside. The ruckus continues until the couple invite all the people inside and serve refreshments.

Further investigation into this custom suggests that depending on where one is located, a charivari is not a happy dance.

In days past, the custom was often used to demonstrate community disapproval of adulterous relationships, wife beaters and remarriages. It was also sometimes used as a form of social coercion, to force unmarried couple to wed.

From Webster's 1913 Dictionary : Definition: (Char*ri 'va *ri) Noun. French. A mock serenade of dissonant noise done with kettles and tin horns meant to annoy. Generally when an older person married a very young person.

Sources referenced:

"An Oregon Charivari", Rex Gunn, Western Folklore, Vol. 13, No. 2/3 (1954), pp. 206-207 Published by: Western States Folklore Society.

"Charivari/Shivaree: A European Folk Ritual on the American Plains", Loretta T. Johnson, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Winter, 1990), pp. 371-387 Published by: The MIT Press.


  1. Terrific ... my parents were the recipiants of a charivari 50+ years ago but, alas, I have not.

    Enjoyed reading your blog - as always.


  2. I have heard a good family story about this sort of thing but I didn't know there was a specific name for it. Thanks for enlightening me!

  3. I had heard of the tradition before, but didn't realize that it actually had a name. You learn something new every day. :)

  4. I think it was generally pronounced "shivaree" here in the US, especially in them hills and hollers. I have heard of this tradition quite often, but never saw the fancy-schmancy high falutin' French spelling afore this. :-)

  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shivaree - I saw both "Oklahoma" and The Waltons episode which feature a shivaree.

  6. Yes, I agree with Miriam. I've only heard the shiv-uh-ree pronounciation. It's a treat to see a real spelling!

  7. Mother,

    When I get married (hopefully, some day...), remind me not to tell you about it until AFTERWARDS. LOL. I can just imagine you and Maven et al making a racket outside...

    Sista D

  8. When I saw the topic of this post, I recognized it from my college British history classes but didn't realize it had morphed into something else in the modern age. The description you gave of it as it was, is pretty much the same as what I was taught in school. It was very popular when the husband did something wrong in the marriage and was really the only way a town (and the man's wife) could show disapproval in a public way. The may would be humilated in such events and then paraded around while the participants clanged on their pots, etc. Definitely not a good thing. It's interesting to hear how it continued into the 20th century as a party of sorts. Thanks for posting this! ~Nikki at http://genealogist-in-training.blogspot.com/

  9. Your post is great! I had never seen it spelled out and thought it had an "L" in it somewhere.

    My husband and I received a "Charivar" shortly after we were married in 1975. My family and my husband's family showed up pretty late at night banging on panand garbage can lids and stuff.

    I had not heard a Charivari is for any discontent. On the contrary my family deemed it a celebration of sorts. If they show up and the husband and wife have no "ice cream" or refreshments, the family will wait there until either of them go to the store and come back with goodies. Thank goodness in our case, our parents brought the ice cream!

  10. This happened to my husband and I in 1970. In Ohio, they called it a "belling". About 10 PM, (many of the neighbors were farmers and had to milk cows)we heard loud bells and pans at the back door. We actually greeted them, they took a tour of our 1812/1822 home which we had made livable and left about 3 AM! It was really nice because I was a transplant to the area. They made me feel welcomed.

  11. My experience, in western Iowa, rural community/small town, it was as Miram said, pronounced that way. It was very common - between my parents wedding and our wedding (coming up on 51 this year). Our wedding was in the country, but we lived in the city, where I was in college... so, thankfully, we didn't get one! ;-)

  12. Your shivaree was sure different from the one I took my wee boys to -- it was a Civil War reenactment complete with black powder guns and cannons. Come to think of it, maybe that isn't all that different than a wedding shivaree.. lol

  13. There is a type of this in a movie most of us have seen: "Its a Wonderful Life" after George Bailey gets married.