[shiv-uh-ree, shiv-uh-ree, shuh-riv-uh-ree or, especially Brit., shahr-uh-vahr-ee]
This is an article about the folk custom. For the band Shivaree, see Shivaree (band). For the historical magazine, see Le Charivari

Charivari or shivaree or chivaree was originally a French folk custom, a noisy mock serenade for newlyweds. It was also sometimes used as a form of social coercion, to force an as-yet-unmarried couple to wed. "Charivari" is the original French word, and is used in both English and French in Canada, while "shivaree" is used in the United States and "chivaree" is used in Ontario Canada.

In charivari, people of the local community gather around to "celebrate" a marriage, usually one they regard as questionable, gathering outside the window of the couple. They bang metal implements or use other items to create noise in order to keep the couple awake all night. Sometimes they wear disguises or masks.

The custom dates from the Middle Ages and originates from France where it was a regular custom after weddings. Later it became a form of protest against socially disapproved marriages, for example the marriage of widows before completing the socially acceptable period of mourning. In the early 1600s, the Council of Tours forbade charivari and threatened its practitioners with excommunication. Nevertheless, the custom continued in rural areas.

Shivaree has been practiced in much of the United States, though it is mostly a product of the frontier. Some regional variants include "belling", "horning", and "serenading". Although there were many accounts in the early half of the 20th century, it is thought to have mostly died out. In Canada, charivari has been known to take place in Ontario, Quebec, and the Atlantic provinces, but not as an expression of disapproval. The custom appears to still be alive and well in the farming communities of Southwestern Ontario. As recently as April 2008, a charivari took place in Haldiman county in which modern noisemakers included shotguns and chainsaws.

The origins of the word "charivari" are likely from the roman caribaria, meaning headache or the greek kerebaria: kera (head), 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.

Other usages

Charivari is also a German word for "shiny" and in Bavaria refers to the silver ornaments worn with lederhosen.

Charivari is also the name/call sign of a radio station in Nuremberg, Germany in the state of Bavaria. In legal parlance, charivari also means discordant voices.

Charivari (also known as "riding the stang") was a community ritual in which a person (typically a wife) had been accused of scolding, or beating, or otherwise abusing the other sex, she is made to "ride the stang". "Ride the stang" simply meant that a woman would be placed backwards on a horse and paraded through a town being mocked at, and banged pots and pans at her all through town.

The Charivari was used as an instrument to belittle those that married but could not consummate their marriage. An example of this happenstance took place in the Mid-1500's to a man named Martin Guerre in the village of Artigat.


Further reading

Davis, Natalie Zemon. 1975. Society and Culture in Early Modern France. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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