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.
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