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?


Janet, said...

Well, I can't make a very good comment,because I don't ever remember any chivaree takin' place up the holler. The only one I ever saw was on the Waltons. :)

Granny Sue said...

Good grief! It's a wonder that young man still had his manhood after all that! No shivarees in my background, and right now I'm thinking I'm grateful to have missed it.

But you know, it kinda explains the custom of tying cans and such on wedding cars and chasing the bride and groom out of town. Now my family was big on that and it's a wonder no one ever wrecked or got hurt. They could do some fancy decorating on the cars too. Sometimes it got carried a little too far.

Tipper said...

Matthew-I've heard of them-and read about them-but never taken part in one. And thankgoodness no one thought of it when I got married!!!

Nance said...

Chivarees have about gone the way of the two dollar bill here in Iowa but I remember my folks telling about them from the 1930s and 40s -- and I remember going to one for my older sister in 1960. I was young and just watched the merriment but a couple of pranks I remember is someone removed all the labels from the tin cans (which later led to some innovative meals) and mixed the cereal in the boxes. The bride and groom were prepared for the visit and had treats for all . . . but there were no rails involved in this Chivaree!

Kelley said...

My grandmother always called the chivaree a "belling." She explained that people would beat on round saw blades, sing and generally make lots of noise. The only way to stop the noisy guests' 'concert' was to give them candy. This tale comes from Vinton and Athens County in Southeastern Ohio.

Bruce L said...

I was 10 years old in 1960, when my oldest sister got married. The family and many friends got together, a bit after midnight, with the usual hollering and noise making outside. We had woke them up. I remember dragging my new brother in law out of his bed (along with my sister). The "mob" tore their house up,meaning, they up ended furniture, tore off labels from cans, and filled their bed with cereal. We left them standing in their house wondering what had just happened in such a short time! But the night wasn't over! My cousin also had just been married in another town, 20 miles away, so off we went to their house. Once again, they did everything to them, but also dragged him to the main street of the little town, where they made him carry his wife up and back in the center of the main street (I think the town was asleep, as we were the only ones awake then!), in a wheel barrow.

Millie Wesson said...

My parents were married in 1938 in Wood County, West Virginia. They had a chivaree the evening of their wedding and were prepared for it. They had a bag of candy for the ladies and a bottle of whiskey for the men as the bribes to get them to leave.

Cindy d said...

I remember a few chivarees when I was very young but I don't think they actually did it the night of the wedding, but after the honeymoon. Mostly just a big party which was a surprise to the honorees. This custom morphed into fining a way to get into the house while the couple were on their honeymoon and doing things like treating off the can labels. My friends and I once filled the bath tub with lime jello, water and ice and when the couple got home they were meet with a bathtub full of congealed lime jello. I made sure no one could get into my house when I was home and had no food in my house until after the honeymoon.