Friday, May 30, 2014

The mystique of Charivari



The mystique of Charivari

By Uzuki Shimamura
The Daily Magi
October 27, 2070

Charivari (or shivaree or chivaree, also called "rough music") is the term for a French folk custom in which the community gave a noisy, discordant mock serenade, also pounding on pots and pans, at the home of newlyweds. The loud, public ritual evolved to a form of social coercion, for instance, to force an as-yet-unmarried couple to wed. This type of social custom arose independently in many rural village societies, for instance also in England, Italy, Wales or Germany, where it was part of the web of social practices by which the small communities enforced their standards.

The community used noisemaking and parades to demonstrate disapproval, most commonly of "unnatural" marriages and remarriages, such as a union between an older widower and much younger woman, or the too early re-marriage by a widow or widower. Villages also used charivari in cases of adulterous relationships, wife beaters, and unmarried mothers. In some cases, the community disapproved of any remarriage by older widows or widowers. Charivari is the original French word, and in Canada it is used by both English and French speakers. Chivaree became the common spelling in Ontario, Canada. In the United States, the term shivaree is more common.

Members of a village would decide on a meeting place where everyone could plan what was to be done. Those who were to initiate the charivari used word-of-mouth to summon the largest possible crowd to participate, with women helping to organize and lead. After forming their plan, the charivari group would usually proceed by foot to the home of those they were acting against, making as much noise as possible with makeshift instruments and loud songs, and begin their assigned actions.

Shivaree has been practiced in much of the United States, but it was most frequent on the frontier, where communities were small and more formal enforcement was lacking. It was documented into the early 20th century, but was thought to have mostly died out by mid century. In Canada, charivaris have occurred in Ontario, Quebec, and the Atlantic provinces, but not always as an expression of disapproval.

The early French colonists took the custom of charivari (or shivaree in the United States) to their settlements in Quebec. Some historians believe the custom spread to English-speaking areas of Lower Canada and eventually into the American South, but it was independently common in English society, so was likely to be part of Anglo-American customs. The earliest documented examples of Canadian charivari were in Quebec in the mid-17th century. One of the most notable was on June 28, 1683. After the widow of François Vézier dit Laverdure remarried only three weeks after her husband’s death, people of Quebec conducted a loud and strident charivari against the newlyweds at their home.

As practised in North America, the charivari tended to be less extreme and punitive than the traditional European custom. Each was unique and heavily influenced by the standing of the family involved, as well as who was participating. While embellished with some European traditions, in a North American charivari participants might throw the culprits into horse tanks or force them to buy candy bars for the crowd.


All in fun – it was just a shiveree, you know, and nobody got mad about it. At least not very mad.


This account from an American charivari in Kansas exemplifies the North American attitude. In contrast to punitive charivari in small villages in Europe, meant to ostracize and isolate the evildoers, North American charivaris were used as "unifying rituals", in which those in the wrong were brought back into the community after what might amount to a minor hazing. In some communities the ritual served as a gentle spoof of the newlyweds, intended to disrupt for a while any sexual activities that might be under way.

In Tampa, Florida in September 1885, a large chivaree was held on the occasion of local official James T. Magbee's wedding. The party, reportedly "the wildest and noisiest of all the chivaree parties in Tampa's history," was attended by "several hundred" white men and lasted "until near daylight." The music produced during the chivaree was reportedly "hideous and unearthly beyond description." See See Kyle S. Vanlandingham, “James T. Magbee: ‘Union Man, Undoubted Secessionist and High Priest in the Radical Synagogue,” Sunland Tribune 20, no. 1 (1994): 7-23.

Charivari is believed to have inspired the development of the Acadian tradition of Tintamarre. In the American film It's a Wonderful Life, two of protagonist George Bailey's friends sing mockingly outside the window of the old house where George and his wife Mary are spending their wedding night.

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