A chivaree (also "shivaree") is an old custom of harassing the hell out of newlyweds on their wedding night. I had always thought of it as being an Appalachian tradition, but it is far more widespread, cropping up under different names in most regions of the US.

On the evening after the ceremony, the married couple goes home (or to the in-laws' house, or the honeymoon cottage). As soon as they turn out the lights, the neighbors go crazy. Surrounding the house, they cause as great a commotion as possible, banging on pots and pans, playing any musical instuments they can get their hands on, and of course yelling and yelling. There are records of people bringing shotguns and dynamite to a chivaree, for maximum disturbance.

If the chivaree takes place on a wagon train, the troublemakers will jostle the honeymoon wagon back and forth. This delights me.

The noise-makers will not go away until the couple makes an appearance, and this, I'd imagine, is where the filthiest comments and catcalls come in. In literature, brides are often depicted as being notoriously un-fond of the chivaree, and this is likely why.

The couple may shoo away the neighbors, or invite them in for treats. Sometimes the chivaree-ers may bring their own treats, turning the event into a late-night potluck. From what I have read, when the party is over, it is OVER - there is no double-chivaree, no sneaking back to surprise the couple again just as they are about to slip into bed or each other.



"Chivaree" is a corruption of the French "charivari," which one source translates as "erotic music," referring to sexy tunes played to stimulate the bride and groom. Babelfish is pretty sure "charivari" just means "hullabaloo." There's a rumor that the French term originated from a late Latin word for "headache." Who knows. (Any help here would be appreciated.)

The term was most likely borrowed from French traders and settlers along the Mississippi River. The chivaree was a well established practice in the US by 1805 - here's an account dating from that year, detailing a New Orleans version of the event:

“The house is mobbed by thousands of the people of the town, vociferating and shouting with loud acclaim... Many are in disguises and masks; and all have some kind of discordant and noisy music, such as old kettles, and shovels, and tongs... All civil authority and rule seems laid aside.”   (http://www.bartleby.com/61/27/S0352700.html)

"Chivaree" / "shivaree" is a term which is especially common along the Mississippi River, and to the west. This forms a dialect boundary which runs north-south, dividing western usage from eastern. Which is odd, as must dialect boundaries separate northern from southern use.

Other terms for the same thing:
belling - used in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan;
horning - from upstate New York, northern Pennsylvania, and western New England;
serenade - used chiefly in the South Atlantic states; and
callithump / callathump - ?



thanks to:

http://www.weberpl.lib.ut.us/roughdraft/RDspring00/lang_books.htm
http://projects.ghostwheel.com/dictionary?define=chivaree&Submit1=Search+Dictionary
http://www.eyrie.org/~pi/Stories/pinocchio.txt
http://home.earthlink.net/~momb/Valleys22.html
http://webpages.coastaccess.com/wald/famlif.htm
http://www.bartleby.com/61/27/S0352700.html

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