Monday, April 27, 2009
Since it is the spring of the year and this seems to be a very popular time of year for weddings and such, I thought I’d tell you all about a custom we have in the mountains known as chivaree.
A chivaree was a noisy celebration of friends and family that took place on the wedding night of a loved one. The celebration was usually headed up the by brothers of the bride, or another close male relative. It was kept secret from the happy couple, but it was done to nearly every couple so I don’t know how much of a secret it was. I’m sure many happy couples hoped against hope that everyone had forgotten about honoring them with a chivaree.
After the wedding reception and after the newlyweds retire for the night, all of their kinfolk and friends would get together and surprise the couple with a noisy and raucous welcome into married life. The best time to start a chivaree was after the newlyweds turned out the lights, usually around midnight or a little later and kind of got settled. Then, all of a sudden the boisterous crowd gathered outside the house where the newlyweds were spending their wedding night. On cue, the crowd started hollering at the top of their lungs, banging on pots and pans, setting off firecrackers, beating on windows and doors, and hollering out the names of the newlyweds and yelling “chivaree”. This usually scared both of the newlyweds half to death, especially if one or the other had never heard of chivaree before. It really depended on the crowd, but sometimes they’d force the door open and gather up the bridegroom and rough him up a little.
I remember when my cousin Sal got married to her husband Kingfisher, they were given a pretty lively chivaree. The thing of it was, Kingfisher wasn’t from the mountain and he had never heard of such a thing as a chivaree, and Sal had neglected to tell him anything about it (she probably didn’t want to scare him off). After they had settled into their honeymoon house on their wedding night, and when their minds were occupied with other thoughts, the chivaree commenced.
A crowd of about 50 people surrounded the honeymoon house and were hollering out the names of Sal and Kingfisher. It liked to scare Kingfisher to death, he thought a horde of hillbillies were out to get him, and I'm sure it did look that way. Sal tried to reassure him that they’d stick around for awhile and it was just their way to honoring the marriage, but Kingfisher panicked and couldn’t understand why this crowd was gathered all around their house, hollering and screaming, banging on the windows and doors…and some of them were even carrying lit torches!
Then Sal’s brothers, who were really proud because of their sister’s wedding, decided they would really welcome Kingfisher to the mountain, so they decided to give Sal a chivaree like they had in the old days. First, they sent someone to fetch a rail from a nearby rail fence, and they then greased it up with lard. Then they got a bunch of men together and forced open the door to the house, and dragged Kingfisher out of the house kicking and screaming, and he was wearing nothing but his underwear! They told him to hold on, and they hoisted him up on the greased rail and paraded him all around the community, fully thinking that they were honoring their sister’s choice of husband by doing this. Of course, Kingfisher kept falling off the rail but the brothers would just hoist him back up on it and continue along the way. I’m sure Kingfisher had no idea what was to become of him.
Jubilant cheers of chivaree echoed all over the mountain that night. After the rounds were made, they brought Kingfisher back to Sal and expected to get asked in for some drinks and such, as was the custom. By this time, Kingfisher was fit to be tied, and was really angry at everyone, and started hollering at everyone to leave them alone and to leave. Well, that just offended Sal’s brothers, who really had thought that they had honored Kingfisher by riding him around the community on a greased rail, so they figured they cool him off a little. They grabbed Kingfisher again, and this time tied his arms and legs, and grabbing the greased rail again they tied him to it, they carried him to the water trough that was used for the stock. They dipped Kingfisher into the trough a few times, and each time they’d pull him up out of the water, they’d holler, “Chivaree…Chivaree”. Well, Kingfisher caught on pretty quick and told the boys, “Let’s go back to the house and have a drink.” They did, at which time Sal hastily explained to Kingfisher what a chivaree meant, and this time he listened intently, so as not to again offend the family he had just married into. He didn’t make that mistake again, and resigned himself to celebrating the marriage with his newly acquired family. An hour or so later, everyone left the honeymoon house flaming torches and lanterns in hand, some of them still beating on their pots and pans, and hollering out the names of the newlyweds and “chivaree’. The commotion soon faded into the distance and all was again quiet at the honeymoon house. Kingfisher had been welcomed into the family, and amazingly enough, he’s still a part of it!
These days, the festivities of a chivaree are nearly forgotten on the mountain, but everyone remembers the one that took place after Sal and Kingfisher’s wedding. After that whenever one of Sal’s sisters were married, immediately following their wedding reception they drove into Franklin to stay at the hotel there. I guess they didn’t want to take a chance on their brother’s honoring them with a chivaree.
Do any readers out there remember the chivaree? If so, what kind of things happened during the festivities? Anyone know where this custom came from?