21 July 2010

Good Times: Shivaree

By Elizabeth Lane

Frontier weddings were a great excuse for celebration. Given time, money and good weather, the bride and groom might host a picnic or dance for their guests. But the liveliest form of wedding entertainment was the shivaree--the hazing of the newlyweds on their wedding night.

The origins of the word "charivari" are likely from the Roman caribaria, meaning headache or the Greek kerebaria: kera (head) and barys (heavy), named for the effect of the cacophony on the hapless newlyweds. The tradition has been practiced for at least 700 years as it is depicted in an engraving in "Roman de Fauvel"--an early 14th century French manuscript.

Charivari, or shivaree, started as a French folk custom, going back to the Middle Ages. It was originally a mark of disfavor--for example, if the neighbors thought a widow had remarried too soon. But in the American West, the shivaree was all in fun.

One writer describes the shivaree as a combination of trick-or-treating, fraternity hazing, and Christmas caroling. The participants would gather at a neighbor's place, maybe having a few drinks to warm up. As night fell, they would converge on the house where the newlyweds had gone, trying to arrive shortly after the couple got into bed. On a signal, they would start singing, yelling, and banging on pots and pans. If the couple refused to come out, they would bang on the door, demanding to come inside and have a drink.

If the groom opened the door and gave them money or a treat they might go away and finish the party somewhere else. But if the uproar was ignored, they might break in, kidnap the groom, take him far away, and leave him to find his way home in the dark--perhaps undressed.

One Kansas newspaper provides the following description of a shivaree party: "They performed such tricks as shooting bullets through the windows, breaking down the door, dragging the couple out of bed and tumbling them about on the floor, and indulging in other equally innocent tricks." The editor added, "It requires backbone to get married out this way."

My prim little grandma, who married in the early 1900s, described the shivaree that took place on her wedding night. A group of friends showed up demanding to come in for refreshments. She and Grandpa barred the door and wouldn't let the celebrants in.

Even in my day, growing up in a small western town, the shivaree wasn't an unknown custom, especially if the bride and groom were in their teens, with lots of friends around. I've heard of friends sneaking into a reserved motel room, short-sheeting the bed (if you have to ask what that is you're a lot younger than I am) and doing things to the toilet that involved saran wrap, Vaseline or Jello. I myself have enjoyed decorating a friend's car with embarrassing slogans and yards of toilet paper.

How about you? Do you know of anyone who's been shivareed? Have you ever played tricks on someone at a wedding? Did anyone play tricks at your wedding?


Delia DeLeest said...

good grief, I don't even want to think about the shivaree we had when we got married. Our friends got a bit carried away and I spent the next day vacuuming birdseed out of my kitchen cabinets and trying to figure out where they hid all our lightbulbs. They snuck into our house during the wedding reception and we came home to a huge mess. I was NOT happy.

Cheryl said...

Hello, my filly sister!

What an interesting post! Wasn't it in "Oklahoma" that there was a shivaree? I can't remember, and I should, since I'm from there! LOL This was really interesting. I wouldn't enjoy that at all--probably why people started going away on a honeymoon somewhere and keeping the location a secret! LOL

Cheryl P.

Obat Aborsi said...

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Ron Schlup said...

While in college I worked summers for the US Forest Service in NE Wyoming. My boss told our crew about his shivaree over lunch one day:

The services were held in town, but the newlyweds were spending their wedding night and a few following days in a remote cabin at the base of a fire lookout tower some 25 miles into the Black Hills. As was to be expected, the groom's co-workers at the Forest Service were invited to the wedding. When the legal services were completed several burly male friends gently manhandled the bride and groom into separate vehicles (much to the amusement of the pre-informed audience) and drove them to their honeymoon cottage.

If you have never been to a fire lookout tower, they are metal derrick-like structures with a series of steps rising to a height of 60 to 80 feet above the forest floor culminating in a smallish room of windows at the top. This observation area is entered through a trapdoor in the floor. It is a scant 8 by 8 feet and has no balcony around it, thus leaving it a sheer drop on all sides. To avoid vandalism the trapdoor is locked nightly with a very sturdy padlock on the bottom side (outside), of course.

Upon arrival of the "wedding party" at the tower, the groom was forcibly escorted up the steps of the lookout and shoved into the elevated cell at the top. There he remained shouting imprecations and threats as his groomsmen proceed to padlock the exit and descend to the cabin below. Once they reached the second pickup truck which contained the bride and her "retinue" of male companions, they passed the key to the tower through the window to the bride. Then, much to her dismay, her shoes were removed and handed out the window. The groomsmen and their wives and friends, who had formed a procession from the church to the honeymoon cabin, stood back and waved and cheered as the bride's vehicle drove away down a narrow dirt road through the timber. The crowd was then informed that she would be dropped of barefoot in about ten miles, but with prison key in hand.

Once the bride was out of sight, the remaining group smiled and waved cheerfully and shouted some wedding night advice to the groom-on-high before proceeding into the cabin. Once inside, the men helped themselves to the beer the groom had stocked in the frig. Meanwhile the wives and others of the bride's friends went to the pantry and politely removed the labels from all the canned goods to be found there.

Leaving the house otherwise neat and untouched, they retired to the lawn to await the return of the bride's carriage (sans the bride), finishing the last of the beer while they waited. And so, with the bride plodding on dusty feet, with the groom staring daggers and gesturing as expected, and with the sun setting rather beautifully in the west, the shivaree ended. Such was friendship displayed for all to see in mid-twentieth century Wyoming.

We of the timber thinning crew never did hear if there were repercussions.

Unknown said...

My AuntHelen and Uncle cal talked of their group on motorcycles riding thru the front door and out the back of newly married couples back in their mday. A shivaree they called it....

Unknown said...

I was born in 1946 in Woodward, Oklahoma. Sometime when I was around 7 or eight I attended a Shivaree with my grandparents, Mae and Glen Campbell. It was a sight to behold and I did not understand why any one would treat any one else so mean. There was noise, speeches, and the groom was made to stand in a wash tub full of permanent ink. I have remembered that washtub of ink all my life, and I'm still not sure what the whole affair accomplished.
Later, in the 60's my parents took me to an Italian wedding in a Catholic church in Gallup, New Mexico. After the lovely ceremony, the bride was "kidnapped" and the groom had to find her. They dragged the bride through some oil at the gas station and ruined her wonderful gown.
About this time, I was wondering about wedding traditions and how I could escape them if I ever married.

Dora said...

We call what we do a shivaree, but it's all in fun for everyone. We are campers and when a newlywed couple joins our camping trip, we will decorate their tent inside and out on one of their inevitable "alone time" walks or trips to the lake. This past week we filled a tent top to bottom with inflated balloons and put whoopie cushions under their air mattress!