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date: 20 November 2019

Charivari [chivaree; shivaree; belling; horning; serenade]locked

  • Jonas Westover

Extract

[chivaree; shivaree; belling; horning; serenade]

Marriage ritual in Europe and North America. Although the origins of this ancient custom probably predate historical record, its practice in Europe is most clearly dated back to the medieval period. It flourished until the mid-20th century. The first records of the ritual come from France, where townsfolk would perform a charivari for couples that had somehow transgressed the bounds of traditional marriage, for example, a widow or widower who married too quickly after a death. People participating would blow horns, sing in a cacophonous manner, bang pots and pans, and generally create a variety of disorganized noises to demonstrate their unhappiness with a particular couple. The charivari would usually happen at night, when the couple was the most unsuspecting. The practice spread throughout Europe, with examples found in England, Italy, Germany, and further to the east.

Its move to North America came mainly with the French settlers in the United States and Canada, but there are events noted in Quebec in the early 17th century. When the practice was transferred to the new location, new terms for it became common, with “shivaree” being that most frequently used in the United States, especially in the Midwest and West. The other terms were used in different parts of the country by the 19th century: “belling” in the eastern Midwest, “horning” in New England, and “serenade” in the mid-Atlantic states. Until at least the early 19th century the meaning of the event was an act of anger and humiliation with the intended result of shaming the couple. During that century it transformed into a celebration of a marriage, and almost all newlyweds were “rewarded” with a shivaree by their friends and family. The practice continued in the United States into the mid-20th century, mostly in rural areas. Lucile Westover describes her own shivaree on ...

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