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What Is a Shivaree?

I'm carrying on my mother's research into our family history. I've self-published some family memoirs & learned a lot about different eras.

My paternal grandparent's wedding photo from 1915.

My paternal grandparent's wedding photo from 1915.

Learn about the Old-Fashioned Wedding Night Custom, the Shivaree or Chivaree

I'd heard about shivarees (or chivarees) when I was a kid, but even then, the custom had mostly died out. Now very few people even know what a shivaree was. Recently my interest in this old custom was piqued by a poem written by octogenarian, Monte Manka. In his eighties, but with still vivid memories of the good old days, Monte writes poems about his youth in the 1930s and 40s.

Here's his poem, plus I'll get my mother's memories of her own shivaree to add and some research I did on the topic. What is a shivaree? Read on and you'll find out.

The old wedding photo is my grandparents, Cora (Joy) and Lorenzo Martin. I must ask my dad if they ever talked about being shivareed.

Chivaree at Chelsea

A poem by Monte Manka, written June 3, 2010


The farm boys and farm girls

Of Chelsea

Secretly were planning

A "Chivraee"

Forrest Chapman and Betty Corfman

Were the newlyweds

They were staying with his parents

Soon to be gotten out of bed

The Boys and Girls gathered at our house

To wait for the Chapman's to turn off the light

We lived a mile away

So the crowd could stay out of sight

Our spy rode back to our house

To let us know

That the Chapman house was dark

In a convoy of cars to the Chapmans we did go

We parked down at the highway

We walked quietly up Chapman's lane

We gathered in their front yard

Then all the noise began

A multitude of 12-gauge shotgun blasts

Shattered the silence of the night

There was movement inside the house

The Chapmans turned on those coal oil lights.

The newlyweds came out in their pajamas

The girls took charge of Betty C.

The guys took charge of Forrest C.

I was told to stay behind, doncha see.

The girls threw Betty into the horse-tank

Nightgown and all

With the moss, bugs, and horse slobbers

Those ornery gals were having a ball.

The guys took Forrest up the road a mile

Removed his PJ's and shoes

Gave him a gunny sack for cover

So not to leave him completely nude

We were invited into the house

When the groom finally arrived

There was fudge, pies, cakes and tea

Betty was glad to see Forrest survived.

After feasting on the goodies

Much to everyone's delight

The Chivaree was over

We bade the newlyweds a "quiet" goodnight

(this poem is also published on the Our Echo site)

Soon after this Chivaree, I don't remember another. They have died out here. (Monte Manka 2011)

Memories of Shivarees - shared by readers of this page

Gene Klingbeil on March 2017 - It was still a custom in Southern Minnesota in the early 70's. Our local friends and family surprised us one evening shortly after we got married. As we were in farm country, they came with a tractor and manure spreader (well cleaned out of course) and a bale of straw in the middle for us to sit on as they paraded us around the countryside and through the small town nearby. All the while honking their horns, yelling and banging on a big saw blade they had rigged up on a rod. What a commotion, but true custom from many years past dating back into the 19th century here.

Sue Ellen on Apr 29, 2011 - We had lots of Shivarees around Whitewater, Furley and Annelly, Kansas when I was young. We enjoyed them as the bride and groom gave us treats after we woke them up with the noise of car horns, banging on pots and pans. One that I recall in town was a little different. The groom had to push his bride down Main Street in a wheelbarrow. Ihink she even cooked pancakes for the guests.

Later on. some of the Shivaree events got sort of out of hand with tricks in the home, like flour sprinkled about, short sheeting the bed, taking labels off the food cans, etc. I never went to any after we moved from the area.

Tipi on Feb 23, 2011 - I remember participating in a shivaree when I was young, it was probably towards the end of time when they were common and it was in place of a reception or wedding ceremony. They went to the courthouse and the relatives decided they needed a little celebration. I wondered about banging on pans but it was fun! This proves a wedding can be very economical, at least in the old days!

Annie - Our neighbors who lived a mile away, were a young couple who just got married. The friends and church people planned a "Shivaree". Even the kids got to go. When the light went out, we all made noise banging on pan and whatever, may have been some gun shots. This was 50's in Missouri. They didn't know we were coming but we all had a fun time even the newlywed. They passed out candy bars. We didn't dunk anyone in water or take anyone's clothes. This was our fun out in the country before TV. We should have more creative fun these days. No torture done here. Not on wedding day or night either.

Nancy - Some who've never seen a chavaree think they are rather abusive, but I don't believe that was in the spirit of Chivaree. this is an old wedding custom, not an everyday event. It's all in good fun, I'm sure it upset some, I wouldn't call it barabaric. It is a part of my family history, I think if all my friends and family got together to "embarrass" me and my husband that would be fine. after all, these are loved ones and mine are very loving. It would be a blast.

Marion added some history - Shivaree, or, in French, charivari, is a very old custom that dates back from the Middle Ages and was very popular among our populations in that times. However, it tends to disappear, as anything that would link people to their neighborhood do.

So, I'd join the party, of course! It's fun to do and lets us know that we're appreciated by our peers.

Danielle had this suggestion - The trick is to plan ahead for the shivaree and just don't shut off all the lights until you're ready for company!

A Charivari or Shivaree in 1922 Kansas

The Thayer News  (Thayer, Kansas) 10 Nov 1922, Fri  • Page 1

The Thayer News (Thayer, Kansas) 10 Nov 1922, Fri • Page 1

Personal Accounts of a Shivaree or Chivaree

  • Unusual Historicals: Good Times: Shivaree - This blogger traces the shivaree back to an old French custom called a charivari.
  • Early Years of Married Life - On January 3, 1924, I became the wife of John Carlos Bailey. That was a cold day too and my husband says he almost froze the day before, coming so far on horseback. (the story continues and tells of their shivaree).
  • Chivaree | The Hill Weblog - Observations of life past and present from Terrapin Hill Enjoy the Simple Things.
  • Chivaree Revisited | The Hill Weblog - The Hill Weblog Observations of life past and present from Terrapin Hill. This posting is a follow-up to the one above. It tells of a modern-day chivaree.
  • Chivaree - rootsweb - Some things never change. The writer tells about the custom of holding a chivaree.

Books about Old-Fashioned Marriage Customs

If you want to learn more about wedding traditions and history, check out some of these books. Some cover the fashions for wedding dresses and others are wedding customs.


  • Accessorizing the Bride: Vintage Wedding Finery Through the Decades
  • Something Old, Something New: What You Didn't Know about Wedding Ceremonies, Celebrations, and Customs
  • I do! I do!: The Origins of 100 Classic Wedding Traditions



The Newlins on their wedding day. These are the parents of my step-grandmother, Edna Newlin McGhee.

The Newlins on their wedding day. These are the parents of my step-grandmother, Edna Newlin McGhee.

Learn More about Wedding Customs around the World

  • Wedding Traditions in Greece
    If you are looking for a culture whose weddings are steeped in tradition, full of joy, and lively as can be, look no further than Greece! Greek weddings are big, exciting events, packed with family, food, and dancing, as well as a beautiful marriage.
  • Russian wedding customs and traditions
    Russian wedding customs and traditions with kaaravai, locks etc.
  • Irish Wedding Customs, Superstitions, and Lucky Trad...
    We have all heard the expression “the luck of the Irish”. When a bride begins planning a wedding based on Irish customs, it is very true that much of what she does will be based on trying to bring good luck to the marriage and to shun bad luck...
  • German Wedding Customs
    Traditional wedding customs are an important part of weddings around the globe. Each culture has their own unique customs which make weddings meaningful and enjoyable. German weddings are rich with numerous customs which would make a wonderful...

Personal Accounts of a Shivaree or Chivaree

Clarence McGhee and his bride, Ruth Vining. These are my maternal grandparents and their wedding photo before he left for France in World War I.

Clarence McGhee and his bride, Ruth Vining. These are my maternal grandparents and their wedding photo before he left for France in World War I.

1980s Shivaree

They were still doing shivarees up in northern Kansas when I went to a Catholic wedding in a German farming community back in the 1980s. The groom's friends kidnapped the bride while she was dressing for the wedding and took her on a wheelbarrow ride through town. (I'm sure that would rank right up there as one of every bride's worst nightmares!) There were more hijinks later on after the wedding lunch, but I had already headed home by then.

My Grandparents' 1915 Wedding

The wedding announcement for Cora and Ren Martin's wedding in 1915. They are my paternal grandparents.

The wedding announcement for Cora and Ren Martin's wedding in 1915. They are my paternal grandparents.

More vintage wedding photos from our family album

More vintage wedding photos from our family album

Give Your Opinion - How would you feel about a shivaree on your wedding night

Photo of a couple at a festival in Missouri dressed in vintage wedding attire.

Photo of a couple at a festival in Missouri dressed in vintage wedding attire.

Did My Grandparents Have a Shivaree

for their nuptials?

I wish I knew the answer to this question, but my grandparents are long gone. They died when I was in high school and college. For a short time, I stayed with my grandmother in Emporia, but didn't think to ask for old stories.

She did tell me about fixing the huge noonday meals for the threshing crews. Sadly even the details of that are growing dim in my memories.

Back in those days, when my grandparents wed, it wasn't likely that farm folk would go away on a honeymoon. There were the farm animals to care for and likely little money to spend on traveling around the country. The wedding night would have been spent at their home or the home of one of their parents.

A Death at a Shivaree - The Newspaper Calls for an End to the Custom

A DWINDLING CUSTOM

The Barbarous Charivari a Thing of the Past.

Order-Loving Communities Are Doing Away with This Idiotic Survival of Semlclvilized Times.

The ancient custom of charivari or shivaree, which still survives in rural sections of the United States, is not only a brutal one, but it led to a frightful tragedy near Watonga, 0klahoma Territory, a few days ago. A charivari party was serenading a bride and groom, Mr. and Mrs. Ray Higgins, and making deafening noises by beating on pans, etc. The couple appeared upon the porch and the groom ordered the serenaders to leave. One of the party pointed his gun at the young couple and fired. The bride's face and breast were filled with buckshot, and she died an hour later. The bridegroom was shot in the face, but not fatally, and a little brother of the bride was also wounded.

The charivari party fled, and so far none has been arrested. This outrage should go far to put an end forever to a custom that long ago should have become obsolete. The word charivari, which in local American usage is frequently corrupted into chivaree or shivaree, comes from a French word of uncertain origin, signifying a mock serenade.

....

The hideous aggregation of sounds that go to make up a charivai is kept up until the bridegroom appears and treats his crowd of torturers. Should he delay his appearance too long, or attempt to wear out the crowd by a refusal to appear, the outside company is apt to become riotous and often, stones are hurled through windows, and after them perhaps dead cats and rotten eggs.

The firing of blank cartridges is also considered a fitting accompaniment to the music of tin pans. horse fiddles and horns, and the fatal ending the recent case in Oklahoma probably due to this idea, for murder could hardly have been intended. But the fool with a gun that he does not believe to be loaded is a very common and dangerous kind of fool. Asylums should be set apart for such fools.

It is high time, indeed, that the communities in which the charivari still exists should take stringent measures to stamp out this idiotic survival of semi-barbarous times. That it still does survive in certain communities only points to a lack of civilization and progress in such sections, though, indeed, the custom breaks out in unexpected spots at times.

Arkansas City Daily Traveler
(Arkansas City, Kansas)
01 Aug 1899, Tue • Page 7

Discussion of the Pros And Cons of a Shivaree

Pro

My sister commented, "Maybe no worse than the current custom of shoving cake and icing into the new bride or groom's face."

Here are my own thoughts on it, "I must agree that I would find a shivaree rather traumatic, but my mother said theirs was expected and they had refreshments ready to make a party of it."

Con

A friend had mixed feelings about a shivaree, "Well, now, if it was my ex-husband, I'd hope they'd take him far far away. If it was my present love, I wouldn't be too happy."

One woman had very strong feelings and had this to say, "This is the most BARBARIC custom I've ever heard of. Being physically and emotionally tortured is not my idea of "fun." I grew up in a home where we children were regularly "shivareed" that is beaten, starved and forced to beg for it all to stop. This custom should NEVER have existed. I'm glad it's gone. Had anyone done this to me on wedding night or any other time, I'd have them all charged with assault and battery and then sued them for violation of my person, my civil rights and intent to cause emotional distress. I would never participate in this kind of blatant cruelty. Such a horrible tradition deserves to be gone."

A male friend said, "I'd make sure that no one would know the location we'd be at on our wedding night!"

My friend Joan said that her husband would have gone ballistic.

Another friend who married in England shared, "Our wedding reception was held at my mother-in-law's home where we were living at the time. I think this would have been a bit much for them."

Accounts from Old Newspapers

Other names for a shivaree are "bridegroom hazing" and "horning parties." The friends would arrive usually after dark with big whistles or horns and old tin dishpans which they would beat on with a stick.

One described how to make noise with a rosined plank. Just select a sturdy fence board, add some nails to make sure it stayed attached to the fence post. Then put rosin on the edge of the board. Use another plank and rosin one side of that. Draw that across the fence board to make quite a noise.

Listen to the Music of the Band, Shivaree

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Virginia Allain

Did you know about shivarees?

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on February 21, 2019:

While a good natured shivaree sounds kinda fun, the roots of the practice in medieval Europe were about public humiliation and vigilantism, often intended for weddings the neighbors disapproved of - when the bride was not officially out of mourning, for older women marrying younger men, etc.

I love the picture at the top of your grandparents. It's a lovely photograph and in such excellent condition. I have often wanted to use old pix in some of my own articles but I am afraid to scan them, exposing them to such bright light.

Beverly Fowler on December 04, 2018:

I’ve heard of Shivarees, but years way before my time. Didn’t putting shaving cream on cars....JUST MARRIED..... start after that ended and tying cans on the back of cars and then there would be a parade all around town following the happy couple and horns honking and yelling and loud music and as much noise as could be made. Seems like the police put a stop to that I don’t remember why. Probably some one got carried away and some one got hurt. I do remember that it seems some of the paint on some cars got damaged because some people weren’t careful with what they did or used on the cars. That was before I got married.

Joanne Reid from Prince Edward Island/Arizona on February 07, 2014:

We had shivarees when I was a kid back on Prince Edward Island -- that would have been in the 1950s but the custom was dying out. I got it mixed up with a local name Cheverie back then and thought somehow that family had originated the idea.

Anthony Godinho from Ontario, Canada on September 13, 2012:

This is the first time I'm hearing about this tradition. The poem describes it very vividly. Sounds like fun, but I'm not sure if everyone would like it. LOL ~ stay blessed! :)

gottaloveit2 on June 07, 2011:

Never heard of the things. I suppose there weren't a whole lot of kids conceived on the honeymoon night!

MargoPArrowsmith on April 26, 2011:

I got married in Iowa where I grew up. My husband was from New Jersey. So at the wedding my brother planned one with my friends. They followed us to a motel about 60 miles away where we stopped. lol My husband is very uptight, lacks grace and humor with no ability to roll with the punches. Needless to say, he wasn't amused. But we invited them in and had an nice little party

JoleneBelmain on April 26, 2011:

I have to admit that this is a term that I had never heard of before. Well done. I love your images.

justholidays on February 24, 2011:

I was happy to discover this page about shivaree as it's one of those customs that tends do disappear and make the world go more and more individual.

Blessed by a passing angel on Squidoo.

MamaRuth on February 23, 2011:

I have read several books where shivarees are mentioned. I always thought it sounded like a terrible idea! Maybe the custom some follow of tying cans, etc. to the back of the newleyweds' car after the ceremony is a remnant of the shivaree.

ohcaroline on February 23, 2011:

I remember the segment on the Waltons about the shivaree. Very funny episode...although I wouldn't want that done to me.

Patricia on February 12, 2011:

I enjoyed this lens and the poem is cool! I think it fits the poetry category. I myself would not want a shivaree! Blessing this lens and putting it on my poetry review lens!

Liz Mackay from United Kingdom on December 15, 2010:

Great lens about a quaint custom. Sounds a bit like a stag night which happens to the groom, the night before a wedding. Blessed by a squid angel and featured on Me?!! A Squid Angel

Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on August 22, 2010:

Monte Manka sent me a message on Facebook, saying "Soon after this Chivaree, I don't remember another. They have died out. When I think about it--I'm kinda glad--would sure wreck a wedding night, doncha think? "

Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on August 22, 2010:

@NanLT: Actually Nan, the memories of my mom and of Monte are in the El Dorado and Eureka areas of Kansas. Maybe you're just not old enough to have heard of these.

Nan from London, UK on August 22, 2010:

Thank goodness this isn't a custom here. Nor in any parts I grew up in America. We'd have gotten "a look" from my mother-in-law. Anyone who has seen one, knows "the look".