AN OLD CAJUN CUSTOM --
CHARIVARI – (or SHEVAREE)
Today newly married Cajun
couples spend almost as much time, and probably even more money, on
their “honey-moon” travel plans as they spend on the wedding, itself. But, that was not always the case. In the not so distant past, there was little or no money for travel,
nor means of travel, and no thoughts of travel agencies, planes, hotels,
and the like; the wedding couple simply honey-mooned at home – usually
one of their parent’s homes.
And the notion of the “wedding
reception” – that’s relatively new too. What Cajun families had the money to rent glamorous facilities,
hire expensive caterers etc.?
Not many. Probably, in rare instances, some “high-end”
Cajuns living in New Orleans might have had a wedding reception. But, that was the exception – not the rule.
That didn’t keep the Cajun
folk who attended the wedding from seeking free food and drink from
the wedding couple; hence the custom of the Charivari.
Charivari (pronounced Sha-ree-vah-ree) -- which is also known in
some places as Shevaree -- is
a custom that was brought to south Louisiana by the settling Acadians
from France via Nova Scotia. Some
say it had to do with beating drums, (or in more modern times, beating
pots & pans, ringing bells, and clanging noise-makers of all kinds)
to drive evil spirits away from the newlyweds. Other historical origins indicate that the Charivari was
sometimes used as a coercion to force a couple who were “living together”
to marry; or as a social commentary on a widow’s remarrying before an
appropriate period of mourning.
According to Harnett T.
Kane, a New Orleans journalist and author who published The Bayous
of Louisiana in 1943, a Charivari could surprise the newlyweds
who may have just gone to bed – and perhaps to sleep. The revelers would sneak around the house, and then commence
the Charivari with all the noise making they could muster. It could continue on for hours – until they were invited in. Once the couple was awake, the husband would
ask of group what they wanted. A
spokesperson from the crowd would demand wine, beer, cake, sausage,
& cheese. If the husband
said “Entrez!” (Enter), then the music, drinking & eating would
commence. And the crowd would toast the newlyweds: “Que le Dieu benit les maries!” (May God bless the nuptials.) After the Charivari ended the couple was left in peace. By tradition, only one Charivari per marriage is allowed
– but creative Cajuns will always find an excuse for another party.