The Shivaree

Frontier weddings were a great excuse for celebration.  Given time, money and good weather, the bride and groom might host a picnic or dance for their guests.  But the liveliest form of wedding entertainment was the shivaree—the hazing of the newlyweds on their wedding night.

Charivari, or shivaree, started as a French folk custom, going back to the Middle Ages.  It was originally a mark of disfavor—for example, if the neighbors thought a widow had remarried too soon.  But in the American West, the shivaree was all in fun.

One writer describes the shivaree as a combination of trick-or-treating, fraternity hazing, and Christmas caroling.  The participants would gather at a neighbor’s place, maybe having a few drinks to warm up.  As night fell, they would converge on the house where the newlyweds had gone, trying to arrive shortly after the couple got into bed.  On a signal, they would start singing, yelling, and banging on pots and pans.  If the couple refused to come out, they would bang on the door, demanding to come inside and have a drink.

If the groom opened the door and gave them money or a treat they might go away and finish the party somewhere else.  But if the uproar was ignored, they might break in, kidnap the groom, take him far away, and leave him to find his way home in the dark—perhaps undressed. 

One Kansas newspaper provides the following description of a shivaree party: “They performed such tricks as shooting bullets through the windows, breaking down the door, dragging the couple out of bed and tumbling them about on the floor, and indulging in other equally innocent tricks.” The editor added, “It requires backbone to get married out this way.”

My prim little grandma, who married in the early 1900s, described the shivaree that took place on her wedding night.  She and Grandpa barred the door and wouldn’t let the celebrants in.

Even in my day, growing up in a small western town, the shivaree wasn’t an unknown custom, especially if the bride and groom were in their teens, with lots of friends around.  I’ve heard of friends sneaking into a reserved motel room, short-sheeting the bed (if you have to ask what that is you’re a lot younger than I am) and doing things to the toilet that involved saran wrap, Vaseline or Jello.  I myself have enjoyed decorating a cousin’s car with embarrassing slogans and yards of toilet paper. 

How about you?  Do you know of anyone who’s been shivareed?  Have you ever played tricks on someone at a wedding?  Did anyone play tricks at your wedding?

Oh, yes—since this blog is about weddings I wanted to share the cover for my November book, THE BORROWED BRIDE.  You’ll hear more about the story later.  Sorry, there’s no shivaree in it.

To go to, click on one of the books below.



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25 thoughts on “The Shivaree”

  1. Good morning, everyone. I’m here, racing to finish the sequel to BORROWED BRIDE by the Sept. 1 deadline. Today’s blog was fun to research and write, and I hope you enjoy it, too.
    Looking forward to your comments. Have a great day!

  2. Shooting bullets through the window????????

    Innocent tricks???????????????????

    Actually someone, my family I suppose, tried to shivaree me when I got married. Or to put a darker spin on it, they vandalized my house. All in good fun.

    We wisely were not home, having left in front of all of them, for our honeymoon…they knew we weren’t home!!!!!!!! One man’s shivaree is another’s felony home invasion.
    Our door was locked, so they just left a bunch of junk, newspapers mainly, on our lawn. Uh…thanks?

    And yes, this was a long, long time ago.
    Now, I suppose, to shivaree someone you’ve got to hire a shivaree coordinator and a professional shivaree decorator.

  3. LOL Mary! Glad your door was locked. Otherwise you could have come home to a real mess.
    Love the idea of a professional shivaree coordinator, etc.!
    Do they still do the shivaree thing these days?

  4. Oh, Elizabeth, what a fun post! I think I have use for some of these details in my current propoal 🙂

    No shivaree at our wedding in the sururbs…but I insisted the honeymoon car be kept locked in a garage so it couldn’t be graffitied etc. The bestman and MOH kept it safe–on pain of death LOL.

  5. A shivaree would be a fun idea for a story, Tanya. Hope you can use what you’ve read here.
    Smart idea, keeping your car safe. People can have too much fun decorating, and then you’d have to drive around that way. (Although I think some couples would enjoy advertising the fact that they just got married!)

  6. I first heard of this when I read The Irish Devil by Diane Whiteside (great book, BTW!). Wow – whoda thunk it? I guess there wasn’t a whole lot else to do, LOL! But it sounds like it would have been a whole lot of fun to participate in – unless of course you were the bride or groom, LOL!

  7. Thanks for the informative post. I’ve heard of shivarees but never joined in the fun – and I use that term loosely here.

    And I wasn’t bothered on my wedding night either – although it was close…

    My hubby and I were in the CAF so both our families came a distance to attend our wedding. They arrived the day before the big event.

    I didn’t mind my future MIL staying at our new house the night before the wedding b/c I was still living in the barracks up on base.

    Hubby and I were given the weekend off work and that was it so we couldn’t really go anywhere. And anyway, why would we go anywhere when we had a brand-new PMQ (Private Married Quarters) to break in. 🙂

    But on the morning of our wedding, MIL decides her room was fine and she doesn’t want to go to a hotel so she’ll stay the night. Then my sister decides if MIL won’t go, she won’t either.

    Let’s just say I pulled my betrothed aside and pleasantly told him if he didn’t find us a hotel room for our wedding night, he’d find his marriage to be a very long uncomfortable lifetime.

    Being a very smart man, he agreed. I didn’t know where he was taking me but we left the reception and headed out of town. What? We were hours from anywhere else.

    He took me to the Lookout Inn with a gorgeous view over the lake. But my eyes almost popped out when he escorted me to the honeymoon suite and I saw a huge round bed. I don’t know what was redder – my face or the velvet bedspread.

    Who needs a shivaree when you have a visiting MIL?

  8. There are professional shivarees?? I don’t remember any at our wedding 🙂 And what a beautiful cover, Elizabeth!

  9. Elizabeth,

    We didn’t get shivareed at our wedding but my father-in-law did. Some of his cronies happened to know where they were headed for their honeymoon. So they called the sheriff in one of the towns my inlaws would pass through and said they were wearing stolen wedding rings. The sheriff arrested my father-in-law and he spent the night in jail. Everything got cleared up the next morning and they went on their way no worse for wear except having to postpone their wedding night. I’m glad I missed out on the innocent fun.

    Love the cover of your new book! It looks great. I can’t wait to read it. I’ll have to mark November on my calendar.

  10. What great stories! Haven’t read THE IRISH DEVIL, Lori. But it sounds like a great book. And that round, red velvet bed story belongs in a book, Anita. Still laughing.
    My word, Linda, what an awful thing your FIL’s friends did! Talk about “innocent” fun! I hope he got them back for it.
    I’ve never heard of a real professional shivaree, Fedora. Mary came up with that…and you know our Mary!
    So glad you like my new cover I love it, too. Did anybody notice that the bride is slightly pregnant…?

  11. Hi Elizabeth! Your cover is gorgeous. I’ve heard of shivarees and was always petrified someone would do it to me. (fortunately they didn’t.) In my small hometown, the worst example I heard was someone putting blue cheese in the honeymooners’ suitcase. When they got to wherever they were going, it had ruined all their clothing. Not funny, eh?

    Some of the milder pranks seem like they’re all in good fun, though–short sheeting, etc. Interesting history behind it!

  12. Thanks, Kate. No, the blue cheese trick wasn’t funny. The harmless fun stuff isn’t too bad, but blue cheese–sheesh! Maybe the prankster didn’t realize how much damage it would do. I didn’t get shivareed either–although somebody did decorate the car, and we let them.
    We were poor, and sometimes hotels, restaurants, etc. would give you special deals if your car was decorated.

  13. Shivarees were still going on when I was growing up. The ones I remember were done at one of the parent’s homes where the couple were visiting after the wedding. Cars would gather at a near neighbor’s farm and drive to the place with horns honking and maybe a cowbell clanging. I believe food and refreshments were brought by the partiers.
    It has been a long time ago so my memory isn’t real great. I do know that my cousin, who was one of the victims of a shivaree, just celebrated his 50th anniversary.

  14. Wow, Elizabeth. Can you believe I’ve never heard of this? Amazing! Shivarees were not going on where I grew up in southern Illinois. At least I’d never heard of it or done it.

    As soon as it wasn’t harmful, it sounds as though it might be in good fun. Thanks so much for this enlightening post.

  15. No shivarees, per se, in our day! (47 yrs ago) The
    groomsmen and friends would tie shoes and tin cans
    to the car’s rear bumper & write “cute things” on the windows, using white shoe polish. They would also follow the groom’s car for a short while, until the couple managed to lose them! Honey and his Dad parked our car in the University of Houston parking lot the day before the wedding.
    We left the reception in Dad’s car, were chased
    for a short way, lost the chasers, and then drove across town to retrieve our car. Then we began our wedding trip to San Antonio.

    Pat Cochran

  16. Elizabeth,

    I wouldn’t have thought the bride on your cover was pregnant. You really can’t see much of anything. She’s very pretty. And sad because she thinks she marrying the wrong man? Oh, that sounds like a wonderful story! You’re teasing us with these enticing tidbits. Shame on you.

  17. You must’ve grown up in a more civilized part of the country than some of us did, Karen.
    And it sounds like what you had was almost a shivaree, Pat. Smart move with the cars. Does anybody know how the custom of tying cans behind originated? Wasn’t it to scare away evil spirits or a wish for wealth or something??
    And of course I’m tossing out tidbits, Linda. I am shameless and you are on to me!

  18. Hi Elizabeth- I’m in wedding mode now with my daughter and I have to say, the entire wedding, pre-parties, after-parties, etc, are one big Shivaree! YOu can’t get away from it. The bridesmaids with showers and bachlorette outings, all resemble the shivaree times 100. Thanks for a great blog today!! Love your new cover and the picture is very sweet of the newly married couple. Anyone you know?

  19. My husband’s uncle lent us his cabin for our first night so we didn’t have to travel the 6 or 7 hours to our destination the first night. Well he must have let some of his friends know and that night some guys came pounding on the door. My husband’s voice sounds a lot like his uncle’s and they kept yelling that they knew it was him while my husband kept saying it wasn’t. They all sounded drunk and scared me silly. Luckily they finally gave up.

  20. Wow, Jeanne, it sound like you had a real shivaree on your hands==sounds kinda scary. Very glad they didn’t get in.

    And I was wondering if your wedding was done, Charlene. We want to see photos!!!
    And no I don’t know the couple. Just found them on line. Aren’t they sweet?

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