Shivaree

I was very nervous about going up to Burley, Idaho for our Open House after our wedding in 1963. We’d been married the week before, gone on our honeymoon, and now a week later we were having an open house reception at his brother’s home in his hometown to celebrate our wedding.

It wasn’t that Burley was inherently different than my hometown Bountiful, Utah, but from the stories Edward had told me about growing up in Burley, I had visions of a Wild-West pioneer town where his two cousins, J. Mark, and Marlin, were uncivilized overgrown kids who played all kinds of pranks. He’d told me tales of them putting outhouses under the stoplight on Main Street on Halloween. They (and Ed of course) had thrown tomatoes at cars going down the street on Halloween also. But that was years ago, and this was now.

However, I’d met Ed’s parents a few times, and they were very nice; the three times I’d been up to Burley had seemed normal.  So, I brushed aside my fears, and was determined to get to know the people of Burley where Ed had grown up.

The reception in early December went nicely. The people were friendly and welcoming to an outsider from Utah who had married one of their own. I smiled smugly when Ed’s old girlfriend went through the line; she had waited for him while he went on his mission, then he had come home and dumped her to go down to Utah to college where he met me. I felt sorry for her, but I was still happier that I married Ed instead of her. When I met Ed’s two “wild” cousins, they seemed a little “western” but not too unusual; after all, there had been many like them at Utah State University.

Finally, the reception was over, and Ed’s parents went home. I looked for Ed, but surprisingly, I couldn’t find him. As I was looking around, I heard Lapreal, one of Ed’s cousins, saying something about “kidnapping.” I was sure I had misheard her, but a few minutes later Ed’s older sister Emily June came over and explained that Ed’s cousins were going to “shivaree” Ed and me.

“Shivaree?” I asked. “What on earth is that?”

“Well, it is a pioneer way of celebrating a wedding by following a newlywed couple home and serenading them with loud music and noise.” She explained.  “But J. Mark and Marlin are doing it a little different. They’ve kidnapped Ed.”

“They’ve what? What do you mean kidnapped him? Where have they taken him?” I was panicked! I was abandoned among strangers. What was I going to do?

“Oh, they will eventually return him,” Emily June said. “But who knows in what condition?” She walked over very disgusted and asked her husband to take her home.

“It’s okay, really,” Lapreal explained to me. “Normally when they kidnap someone on their wedding, they’ve just gotten married that day and haven’t had any time alone. You two have been married for over a week. So, it isn’t so bad.”

“Isn’t so bad?” I thought. I was standing there looking at Ed’s friends and family (most of the older ones had gone or were going home) wondering why I had married anyone from Burley, or even come up here for an open house. Bountiful, Utah looked better and better to me. But Ed’s cousin, Lapreal told me not to worry; we would go to J. Mark’s house where they would eventually turn up.

What was I supposed to do—sit in Ed’s brother living room while they put their children to bed, wondering where Ed was, or go with Ed’s cousin, and pretend that this was the normal open house? I went with them.

J. Mark’s pregnant wife looked tired as she welcomed us into her house, but all of us “girls” (except for me) took it for granted that the guys took off and the girls stayed home talking together.  I was glad to get to know more of Ed’s family and friends our age, but as the evening wore on, they seemed a little more uninhibited than my friends in Bountiful.

Finally, after midnight, the “boys” returned. I was so glad to see Ed, I hugged him, but I also whispered, “What on earth is going on?”

He laughed at me and said aloud to everyone. “It’s a shivaree!!!!”

“A what?” I asked again. I was tired about hearing about the strange tradition. Wasn’t it over now that we’d gotten together? The kidnapping was over.

“Make sure you bring your coat,” Ed said kissing me. “You’ll need it.”

We were all getting into cars and trucks. I noticed a wheelbarrow in Marlin’s truck as we got into the cab. Were they going to be hauling something at this time at night? But I got to sit on Ed’s lap, so I didn’t care.

We drove onto Main Street, and I noticed that some cars were blocking Main Street at our end and a few blocks away some other cars were blocking the other end. What on earth was going on? Was there going to be a drag race?

 The stars were bright in the cold night air, and I was shivering as Marlin pulled the wheelbarrow out of the back of the truck. Everyone gathered around us. and I looked at Ed curiously, trying to ask him with my eyes, “What is going on?”

He laughed, picked me up and put me in the wheelbarrow. I was so shocked I couldn’t say anything. Then he started wheeling me down Main Street. The crowd erupted with laughter, cheering, yelling, and noise!

The jolly crowd followed us down Main Street singing, shouting, laughing, and Ed threw back witticisms to them as we barreled along. I was so embarrassed I shut my eyes and wished I was back in Bountiful. At one point I felt Ed lean down and kiss me on my head.  I opened my eyes and looked at him and he winked at me. I cracked a smile and he laughed. I began to laugh, too. It was definitely not Bountiful.

Finally, we reached the barricade of cars and Ed helped me out of the wheelbarrow and hugged me. J. Mark offered us a ride in his truck back to Ed’s brother’s house where we picked up Ed’s car and drove to his parents’ home where we were staying.

“Not like the reception in Bountiful, huh?” he asked as we sat outside the house.

“Not at all!” I admitted. “What did they call it?”

“It is a shivaree, an old pioneer tradition, but we do it a little different here.”

“Yes, I can see you do. I guess life with you will always be a little different.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”



shivaree, or charivari, or chivaree is a North American term for a clamorous salutation made to a newlywed couple by an assembled crowd of neighbors and friends.

Regional Note: Shivaree is the most common American regional form of charivari, a French word meaning “a noisy mock serenade for newlyweds” and probably deriving in turn from a Late Latin word meaning “headache.” The term, most likely borrowed from French traders and settlers along the Mississippi River, was well established in the United States by 1805; an account dating from that year describes a shivaree in New Orleans: “The house is mobbed by thousands of the people of the town, vociferating and shouting with loud acclaim…. [M]any [are] in disguises and masks; and all have some kind of discordant and noisy music, such as old kettles, and shovels, and tongs…. All civil authority and rule seems laid aside” (John F. Watson). The word shivaree is especially common along and west of the Mississippi River. Its use thus forms a dialect boundary running north-south, dividing western usage from eastern. This is unusual in that most dialect boundaries run east-west, dividing the country into northern and southern dialect regions. Some regional equivalents are belling, used in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan; horning, from upstate New York, northern Pennsylvania, and western New England; and serenade, a term used chiefly in the South Atlantic states.

shivaree – a noisy mock serenade (made by banging pans and kettles) to a newly married couple.

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