This is an article about the folk custom. For the historical magazine, see Le Charivari.

Charivari (or shivaree or chivaree, also called "rough music") is the term for a French folk custom in which the community gave a noisy, discordant mock serenade, also pounding on pots and pans, at the home of newlyweds. The loud, public ritual evolved to a form of social coercion, for instance, to force an as-yet-unmarried couple to wed. This type of social custom arose independently in many rural village societies, for instance also in England, Italy, Wales or Germany, where it was part of the web of social practices by which the small communities enforced their standards.

The community used noisemaking and parades to demonstrate disapproval, most commonly of "unnatural" marriages and remarriages, such as a union between an older widower man and much younger woman, or the too early re-marriage by a widow or widower. Villages also used charivari in cases of adulterous relationships, wife beaters, and unwed mothers. In some cases, the community disapproved of any remarriage by older widows or widowers. Charivari is the original French word, and in Canada it is used by both English and French speakers. Chivaree became the common spelling in Ontario, Canada. In the United States, the term shivaree is more common.[1]

Members of a village would decide on a meeting place where everyone could plan what was to be done. Those who were to initiate the charivari used word-of-mouth to summon the largest possible crowd to participate, with women helping to organize and lead. After forming their plan, the charivari group would usually proceed by foot to the home of those they were acting against, making as much noise as possible with makeshift instruments and loud songs, and begin their assigned actions.[2]


In Europe

The custom has been documented to the Middle Ages but likely was traditional before that. It was first recorded in France, as a regular wedding activity to celebrate the nuptials at some point after the vows had been taken. But, charivari achieved its greatest importance as it became transformed into a form of community censure against socially unacceptable marriages, for example, the marriage of widows before the end of the customary social period of formal mourning. In the early 17th century at the Council of Tours, the Catholic Church forbade the ritual of charivari and threatened its practitioners with excommunication. It did not want the community taking on the judgment and punishment of parishioners. But, the custom continued in rural areas.

The charivari as celebration was a custom initially practiced by the upper classes, but as time went on, the lower classes also participated and often looked forward to the next opportunity to join in.[3] The main purposes of the charivari in Europe were to facilitate change in the current social structure and to act as a form of censorship within the community. The goal was to enforce social standards and rid the community of socially unacceptable relationships that threatened the stability of the whole.[4]

In Europe various types of charivari took place that differed from similar practices in other parts of the world. For example, the community might conduct a stag hunt against adulterers. They created a mock chase of human "stags" by human "hounds". The hounds would pursue the stags (those who were committing the adulterous relationship) and dispense animal blood on their doorsteps. European charivaris were highly provocative, leading to overt public humiliation. The people used them to acknowledge and correct misbehavior. In other parts of the world, similar public rituals around nuptials were practiced mostly for celebration.[5]

Humiliation was the most common consequence of the European charivari. The acts which victims endured were forms of social ostracism often so embarrassing that they would leave the community for places where they were not known.[6] Sometimes the charivari resulted in murder or suicide. Examples from the south of France include five cases of a charivari victim's firing on his accusers: these incidents resulted in two people blinded and three killed. Some victims committed suicide, unable to recover from the public humiliation and social exclusion.[7]

It is possible that the blowing of car horns after weddings in France today is a hangover from the charivari of the past.[8]

In North America

Shivaree has been practiced in much of the United States, but it was most frequent on the frontier, where communities were small and more formal enforcement was lacking. It was documented into the early 20th century, but was thought to have mostly died out by mid-century. In Canada, charivaris have occurred in Ontario, Quebec, and the Atlantic provinces, but not always as an expression of disapproval.

The early French colonists took the custom of charivari (or shivaree in the United States) to their settlements in Quebec. Some historians believe the custom spread to English-speaking areas of Lower Canada and eventually into the American South, but it was independently common in English society, so was likely part of Anglo-American customs. The earliest documented examples of Canadian charivari were in Quebec in the mid-17th century. One of the most notable was on June 28, 1683. After the widow of Francois Vezier dit Laverdure remarried only three weeks after her husband’s death, people of Quebec conducted a loud and strident charivari against the newlyweds at their home.[9]

As practiced in North America, the charivari tended to be less extreme and punitive than the traditional European custom. Each was unique and heavily influenced by the standing of the family involved, as well as who was participating. While embellished with some European traditions, in a North American charivari, participants might throw the culprits into horse tanks or force them to buy candy bars for the crowd.

All in fun – it was just a shiveree, you know, and nobody got mad about it. At least not very mad.[10]

This account from an American charivari in Kansas exemplifies the North American attitude. In contrast to punitive charivari in small villages in Europe, meant to ostracize and isolate the evildoers, North American charivaris were used as "unifying rituals" in which those in the wrong were brought back into the community after what might amount to a minor hazing.[11]

Charivari is believed to have inspired the development of the Acadian tradition of Tintamarre.

In Music

Charivari would later be taken up by composers of the French Baroque tradition as a 'rustic' or 'pastoral' character-piece. Notable examples are those of the renowned viola da gamba virtuoso Marin Marais, in his five collections of pieces for the basse de viole and continuo. Some are quite advanced and difficult and subsequently evoke the title's origins.

The importance of noise

The use of excessive noise was a universal practice in association with variations in the custom. Loud singing and chanting were common in Europe, England, and throughout North America. For an 1860 English charivari against a wife-beater, someone wrote an original chant which the crowd was happy to adopt:

Has beat his wife! Has beat his wife! It is a very great shame and disgrace To all who live in this place It is indeed upon my life![12]

In Europe the noise, songs, and chants had special meanings for the crowd. For adulterers, the songs represented the community’s disgust. For a too-early remarriage of a widow or widower, the noises symbolized the scream of the late husband or wife, and his or her disapproval of the new marriage.[13]


The origins of the word charivari are likely from the Roman caribaria, meaning "headache", or from the Greek kerebariakeras (head), barys (heavy)—for the effect of the cacophony on the hapless couple or person. In any case, the tradition has been practised for at least 700 years. An engraving in the early 14th-century French manuscript, Roman de Fauvel, shows a charivari underway.

Other usages

Charivari was sometimes called "riding the stang", when the target was a woman who had been accused of scolding, beating, or otherwise abusing her husband. The woman was made to "ride the stang", which meant that she was placed backwards on a horse or mule and paraded through town to be mocked while people banged pots and pans.

The charivari was used to belittle those who could not or would not consummate their marriage. In the mid-16th century, historic records attest to a charivari against Martin Guerre for that reason, in the small village of Artigat in the French Pyrenees. After he married at age 14, his wife did not get pregnant for eight years, so villagers ridiculed him. Later in his life, another man took over Guerre's identity and life. The trial against the impostor was what captured the events for history. In the 20th century, the events were the basis of a French film, Le Retour de Martin Guerre (1982) and the history, The Return of Martin Guerre, by the American history professor Natalie Zemon Davis.[14]

With the charivari widely practiced among rural villagers across England[15] and Europe[citation needed], the term and practice were part of common culture. Over time, the word was applied to other items. In Bavaria, charivari was adopted as the name for the silver ornaments worn with lederhosen. It was derived from the metal pans and implements celebrants used for noisemaking in a charivari.

Charivari is also used in Philippine Criminal Law as defined in Article 155 of the Philippine Revised Penal Code, it is defined as a medley of discordant voices and is penalized under the article as an alarm and scandal.

In popular culture

  • Le Charivari was a French newspaper published from 1832–1937, filled with satire and commentary on daily life.
  • The opening scene in a circus performance, where all the house troupe performs brief moves in rapid fire succession (often with rapid costume changes in between) is often referred to as "Charivari"
  • The British magazine Punch was first called the London Charivari.
  • Radio Charivari is the name of a number of radio stations in the state of Bavaria, Germany.
  • In legal parlance, charivari means "discordant voices".
  • In the French dub of the Disney film The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, the song "Topsy-Turvy" (or, "The Feast of Fools") is translated as "Charivari."
  • A depiction of a shivaree in the American South occurs in the episode "The Shivaree" of The Waltons (season 3, episode 69).
  • "Charivari" is the title of a poem by Margaret Atwood detailing the death of an African American bridegroom during a Quebec Charivari.
  • It is possible that the blowing of car horns after weddings in France today is a hangover from the charivari of the past.[8]


  1. ^ Palmer, Bryan D. (2005). "Discordant Music: Charivaris and Whitecapping in Nineteenth-Century North America". Crime and Deviance in Canada. Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press. pp. 48–49. ISBN 1551302748. 
  2. ^ Gunn, Rex (1954). "An Oregon Charivari". Western Folklore 13 (2/3): 206–207. JSTOR 1520617. 
  3. ^ Longmore, George (1977). The Charivari or Canadian Poetics. Ottawa: The Golden Dog Press. p. 57. ISBN 0919614183. 
  4. ^ Johnson, Loretta T. (1990). "Charivari/Shivaree: A European Folk Ritual on American Plains". Journal of Interdisciplinary History 20 (3): 371–387 [p. 379]. JSTOR 204083. 
  5. ^ Johnson (1990), p. 375.
  6. ^ Johnson (1990), p. 379.
  7. ^ Alford, Violet (1959). "Rough Music or Charivari". Folklore 70 (4): 505–518 [p. 510]. JSTOR 1258223. 
  8. ^ a b Le Goff, Jacques; Schmitt, Jean-Claude, eds (1981). Le charivari. Paris: École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. p. 141. ISBN 2713207541.  (French)
  9. ^ Palmer (2005), p. 51.
  10. ^ Johnson (1990), p. 382.
  11. ^ Johnson (1990), p. 387.
  12. ^ Palmer (2005), p. 49.
  13. ^ Johnson (1990), p. 376.
  14. ^ Davis, Natalie Zemon (1983). The Return of Martin Guerre. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674766903. 
  15. ^ Thompson, E. P. (1993). "Rough Music". Customs in Common. New York: New Press. pp. 467–531. ISBN 1565840038. 

Further reading

  • Davis, Natalie Zemon (1975). Society and Culture in Early Modern France. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804708681. 
  • Greenhill, Pauline (2010). Make the Night Hideous: Four English-Canadian Charivaris, 1881-1940. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9781442640771. 
  • Muir, Edward (2005). Ritual in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 106–112. ISBN 0521841534. 
  • Moodie, Susanna (1854). Roughing It In The Bush. Richard Bentley.  Chapter XI: The Charivari

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • charivari — [ ʃarivari ] n. m. • chalivali XIVe; onomat. ou lat. caribaria « mal de tête », du gr. 1 ♦ Bruit discordant, accompagné de cris, de huées. « C était alors un charivari, pareil à celui que l on fait, le soir de leurs noces, aux veuves qui se… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Charivari — machen (schlagen): einen ohrenbetäubenden Lärm vollführen, eine Katzenmusik verursachen und durch den oft damit verbundenen groben Unfug einen von der Gemeinschaft Verachteten dem allgemeinen Spott preisgeben; vgl. französisch ›faire du… …   Das Wörterbuch der Idiome

  • Charivari — bezeichnet: eine Schmuckkette am Trachtenanzug, siehe Charivari (Schmuckkette) eine Art Polterabend bei Wiederverheiratungen, siehe Charivari (Heirat) die französische satirische Zeitschrift Le Charivari eine deutsche satirische Zeitschrift… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • CHARIVARI (LE) — CHARIVARI LE (1832 1937) L’existence du Charivari , quotidien de caractère polémique, ne peut être dissociée de celle d’un autre journal, La Caricature , dont la durée fut éphémère mais qui joua un rôle déterminant dans la naissance de la grande… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Charivari — Sn Katzenmusik; bayrischer Trachtenanhänger per. Wortschatz arch. obd. wmd. (18. Jh.) Entlehnung. Entlehnt aus frz. charivari m. (faire du charivari) Katzenmusik, ohrenbetäubender Lärm . Der Brauch, gesellschaftliche Mißbilligung durch… …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

  • charivari — CHARIVARI. sub. m. Bruit tumultueux de poêles, poêlons, chaudrons, etc. accompagné de cris et de huées que l on fait la nuit devant la maison des femmes du petit peuple veuves et agées, qui se remarient. Si vous vous remariez, on vous fera un… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • Charivari — Cha*ri va*ri , n. [F.] A mock serenade of discordant noises, made with kettles, tin horns, etc., designed to annoy and insult; called also {shivaree}. Syn: shivaree, charivari, callithump, callathump. [1913 Webster] Note: It was at first… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • charivari — |vàrí| s. m. 1. Grande barulho. = CHINFRIM 2. Grande confusão. = BALBÚRDIA, DESORDEM 3. Manifestação tumultuosa. = ALVOROÇO, GRITARIA   ‣ Etimologia: francês charivari …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • Charivāri — (spr. Schariwari, im Mittelalter Charivarit, latinisirt Chalvarĭcum, angeblich deutschen Ursprungs u. mit chara, charon Trauer, trauern, zusammenhängend, also eine Art Trauerbezeugung, traurige Musik), 1) Gegentheil von einer Serenade, Lärm,… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Charivari — (franz., spr. scha ), eine schon 1337 vorkommende Wortbildung von unbestimmter Abstammung (mittellat. chalvaricum, carivarium), soviel wie buntes Durcheinander, Straßenlärm, Katzenmusik etc., im Mittelalter, namentlich in Frankreich, üblich zur… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Charivari — Charivāri (frz., spr. scha ), Katzenmusik; Uhrgehänge; auch Titel einer satir. Pariser Zeitung …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

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