Shivarees

Preparations for weddings have changed over the years from being held in the month of June to whenever it can be scheduled, from dowries and hope chests to bridal showers. The type of clothing worn has changed, as well as what kinds of gifts are received, along with how and where a honeymoon is spent.

In the ’30s and ’40s, after the couple settled into their household, it was customary for friends and neighbors to give the bridal couple a “shivaree” or “belling.” This was a custom adapted from the European tradition, based on the French “charivari…a ritual used by medieval and early modern Europeans to chastise community members who failed to conform to social expectations, especially sexual ones. Examples included a widow who remarried, a wife who beat her husband, or a couple who failed to have children. In France, where this term originated, teenage boys and young unmarried men usually led such rituals. The youths would parade through the streets, making rough music by banging pots and pans, shouting mocking insults, and sometimes threatening violence. If the victim of the charivari handled the situation effectively by paying off the youths with wine or money, the ritual usually ended peacefully and the matter was laid to rest.”

For the American shivaree, practiced in fun, not judgment of the couple, a crowd of men and women would gather and quietly sneak up to and surround the bridal home, sometimes in the middle of the night; then they would create as much noise and havoc as they could muster by banging on kettles, singing and shouting. The crowd would call for the bridal couple to come outside where they were put into a wheelbarrow and pushed up and down the main street while everyone laughed and shouted. A variation of the shivaree was to place the couple on a hayrack pulled by horses, again taken and paraded down the main street of the hometown. Then the crowd would return to the house for food and beverages, usually expected to be provided by the couple. It was important to keep the date of the shivaree a secret so that the bridal couple would not get wind of what was happening and make a getaway. Sometimes a couple would sneak out the back door when they heard the revelers arrive, but soon they would be found hiding nearby. When the merrymakers left, the exhausted couple would head for the bedroom only to find that further shenanigans had been played on them, such as a bed filled with straw or smelly, dead fish. One couple I interviewed recalled that they were placed in the rumble seat of a Model A Ford car and taken down Highway 23, which was just being constructed, and came close to being thrown out of the moving vehicle when the Model A hit the bridge bump. Sometimes the merrymakers got a little carried away and would drive up and down the ditches — all with the idea of scaring the couple. At times the local sheriff, or night-duty policeman, would get involved when he received calls about the noise disturbance. One interviewee remembers being ushered into the police station where all the merrymakers received a good “talking to,” but they were not kept overnight due to the lack of jail space for such a large crowd of people.

Along this same line, during and after World War II, it was sometimes customary for the bride to be kidnapped during the wedding reception by male friends of the groom. With the intent of “tomfoolery” and wishing to make the groom wonder and worry what had happened to his new wife, the groomsmen would take the bride for a short ride into the country and return with shouts of laughter at the plight of the groom. An extreme case was when the bride, still dressed in her wedding finery, was left alone on a country road to find her way on foot back to the reception. Emphasis was usually directed to “fixing up” the couple’s car. Limburger cheese would be smeared onto the manifold — the car would be set up on blocks so the tires barely touched the ground and would therefore only spin as the couple tried to drive away. When the blocks were removed, the couple would find that there was no air in the tires. Spark plugs were switched and wires removed. Tin cans, not clearly visible, would be tied to the axle, which would make plenty of noise when the car finally was ready to go. All of these expected shenanigans caused the groom to make elaborate plans for hiding his car in someone’s grove of trees or someone’s garage and arrange to receive a ride from a trusted friend to his car. But this plan was no guarantee because the revelers often outsmarted the groom.

A wedding has always been an occasion to be celebrated: how it was done or what rituals surrounded the day has changed over the years. But the occasion itself remains the same — a celebration of joining two people in love that forms the beginning of a new family.

Source: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/frontierhouse/frontierlife/essay; http://unusualhistoricals.blogspot.com/2010/07/good-times-shivaree; http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Shivaree.aspx

COMMENTS