ever heard the term “chivaree”?

Day 24, November daily posting challenge. Some days it’s hard to come up with an interesting subject. (Today may be one of those days.)

I was able to spend a little time today reading a little of the book I found recently, MIDWINTER written by Maurice Stanley. It’s based on a true story about a young woman named Frankie Silver executed in 1833 for the brutal murder of her 19-year-old husband.

It’s an interesting story by the same author who fictionalized Nance Dude, and no less compelling. There are claims that the ballad of Frankie and Johnny, the song recorded by Sammy Davis, Jr., came from Frankie, all of 18 years old when her 19-year-old husband, Charlie, was murdered. She was tried and convicted and thus became the first woman to be put to death in Burke County, North Carolina.

In MIDWINTER we have a glimpse into the imagined private lives of Frankie and Charlie in order to give a reasonable scenario of possible motives, including others other than Frankie who also may have had possible motives without actually making any strong conclusion. Normally we don’t think about women being executed in this country in the 1800s, so the author is asking us to look at the people of the community, and the customs of the time and decide if her execution was justified.

When you write, your research must turn up anything that might possibly throw up a red flag in the mind of the reader, so you try to incorporate as much of the custom of the time as possible so the reader doesn’t have any questions or any reason to stop reading and say, “yeah but” what about…. My red flag moment for this book came during the wedding night scene. Innuendos have already appeared in the first few pages that a possibly frigid Frankie drove Charlie to his prior and more passionately warm blooded friend a year or so later on the day he disappeared, a few days before Christmas 1831. My “yeah but” was why the couple weren’t feated to chivaree.

I don’t know when the custom began in Appalachia, but I know it was brought here from the old countries of origin and was customarily held on the wedding night for most couples. It was practiced–according to handed down family stories in my family–from the time of my grandparents which indicates to me it would have been going on the early 1800s. My own parents were subjected to one although it wasn’t the wedding night as far as I know, because they eloped. I can well imagine the same practice today in more remote parts of the southeastern U.S., especially the mountains.

Customarily, friends and relatives of the bride and groom would appear wherever  the couple were spending their first night together. They showed up around midnight, and would arrive banging pots and pans and generally whooping it up as loud as possible. If the couple refused entry, they resorted to breaking in. Sometimes the groom was kidnapped and roughed up or perhaps dipped in the creek or something similarly mean in order to be initiated into the new family.

The bride and groom were expected to serve snacks to everyone, usually cookies and beverages that suited the sobriety observed by the men in the area–beer or moonshine maybe–or coffee, and then after an hour or two everyone would finally go home and leave the newlywed couple alone. It was done in fun but sometimes got pretty rowdy from the stories I heard.

So I was surprised no mention was made in the book, since a family such as that pictured of the groom’s family, would certainly have carried out such a tradition. Did the custom not then exist in the mountains of North Carolina?

I wonder how many people know about it today? Or do you have to be over a certain age (which would make me feel ancient) or come from a certain region of the country to know about it?

10 thoughts on “ever heard the term “chivaree”?

  1. Alice,
    I just answered some of your questions on my blog. My experience has been that chivarees were somewhat wild wedding celebrations. Serenadings were associated with Christmas and probably grew out of old pagan celebrations.

    • It’s so nice to hear from you, Silver. I’m glad you enjoy my writing, but some days in this writing blitz I’ve gotten myself into I feel I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel! Just goes to show if you learn how to BS early in life you can write about anything at all. As for being enjoyable, that’s another matter, but chivaree does interest me a lot. I’m sure glad it wasn’t a custom in PA where Hubby and I married.

  2. I read of them a long time ago, but remember I live in San Diego. Perhaps it was when I lived in Virginia. My immediate reaction was that they were barbaric. Perhaps the “leaving town” honeymoon evolved from avoiding Chivarees. 🙂

    Only five more days and we can each take a break.

  3. Hi there,First of all thanks again for your kind comments on my blog. I’ve never had to reply to so many. You are wonderful. Secondly, I thought your title was very intersting, and before reading your well-written review, I had planned to joke about “ancient” terms our younger friends don’t know. Yesterday, I said something about “falsies,” and the only ones who chuckled were my “mature” colleagues.

    After reading your post, however, I recognized its serious voice. An old friend of mine told me that when she married, she feared her uncles would kidnap her. It was no laughing matter and she and her new husband were on edge all evening and into the night. The groom put his brothers on alert, and they stayed in close proximity of the two. And then when they left for their honeymoon, they secretly swapped vehicles, and the uncles followed the decorated car long enough that the newlyweds escaped. The trouble-makers were pretty disappointed when they caught up to the groom’s brothers!

    Lastly, do you remember reading of the bride-price tradition in Scotland and other areas of the British Isles? The reigning lord got to have his way with the new bride BEFORE the new husband lay with his bride. It was a horrible practice, and I can’t help but wonder if chivaree grew out of it.

    Gosh, I should post this comment on MY blog for day 25! Take care!

  4. The concept is “sort of” current here in Germany- the bride is “kidnapped” during the reception and the bridegroom needs to track her down and ransom her (usually with alcoholic drinks or food). It’s not after going to bed, since the party doesn’t end here until sunrise, when bride and grrom wander off hand and hand and the guests that have stayed awake that long can collapse.

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