Farm Collector Blogs > Looking Back

The Shivaree

by Sam Moore

Tags: old customs, shivaree, marriage,

Sam Moore  
Sam Moore  

A couple of years ago, in the pages of Farm Collector, Delbert Trew recalled his and his bride’s Texas shivaree.

The way he described it, the event was brutal and sadistic and certainly not much fun for the young newlyweds. We had ’em in western Pennsylvania too, but I think they were (in most cases) a little more fun.

According to Webster’s, the word shivaree is derived from a Latin word meaning “headache,” and I can see why something like what Mr. and Mrs. Trew went through would give one a headache. The definition describes the event as a “noisy demonstration or celebration; especially, a mock serenade with kettles, horns, etc., to a couple on their wedding night.”

I recently found, in my late cousin Peg Townsend’s memoirs, a description of my own parents’ shivaree, a much tamer affair than Delbert Trew’s I might add.

Peg writes: “Soon after the wedding, probably within a week of it, the neighbors planned a serenade for Sam and Blanche; and of course it was to be a complete surprise. Mig and Chuck (Dad’s sister and brother-in-law – Peg’s parents) had invited them to supper. (Peg was only 4 years old at the time, but she apparently remembered something of the event, and I’m sure her mother filled in the details.)

“Suddenly, on the porch we heard a great stamping of feet, the loud booming of sticks beating kettles and pans, and the ringing and clanging of sleigh bells and school bells.

“Immediately Sam knew what was going on and he was in a dither because he hadn’t any candy to offer them.” (In the old days, the revelers usually demanded booze with which to drink to the bride’s health or, in lieu of drink, money to buy drinks at the tavern. If my dad had offered them drinks, my mother would have had the marriage annulled. I guess candy was the non-alcoholic alternative.) Anyway, Dad needn’t have worried, because his sister and brother-in-law had made sure there was candy on hand.

Peg continues: “Meanwhile the porch shook under the pounding feet. Chuck hurried to let them in before they broke through it. There followed a great deal of talking and laughing that evening, and Sam and Blanche were taken for a ‘buggy ride’ in the rumble seat of someone’s Model A Ford. I suppose others followed blowing horns and the like.”

I know of other shivarees in which the hapless couple was bundled into a recently used manure spreader and paraded through the neighborhood behind a tractor, while horses and wagons were often used as well.

When I was probably 16 or 17, I participated in a shivaree in which we all piled into the back of a dump truck, along with the bride and groom of course, and rode around beating on the sides of the truck bed with sticks and yelling at the tops of our lungs, while the kid driving the truck blew the air horns until the air compressor almost melted.

By the time I myself got married, the custom seemed to have pretty much died out in our area and (thankfully) my new wife and I never had the pleasure of a shivaree.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. While you’re celebrating, give a thought to the men and women in our armed forces who are spending the holiday in Afghanistan, Iraq or some other far off place.