In the small valley where I grew up, there were many old mountain customs and celebrations. Bizarre to some I am sure, but delightful memories for me. One of my favorite memories was serenading a newly married couple.
What is a Serenade?
The Appalachian serenade (or shivaree) is the custom of celebrating (or hazing depending on your point-of-view) a newly married couple. Most likely taken from the French charivari, it is a loud and unsettling event often occurring on the wedding night of a newly married couple.
The community plans the serenade and waits until about half an hour after the couple turns the lights out and retires for the evening. The community encircles the house and starts to make a loud disruption by banging on pots and pans, ringing cowbells and, yes, even shooting guns outside shouting for the couple to come out.
I remember participating in serenades as a young child, pounding on pots and pans along with the best of them. Our custom was to parade the couple from their home to the local country store where the couple was required to treat everyone to a snack of some sort. Usually a pack of Nabs (Nabisco crackers) and a pop (soda).
In the earliest serenades I remember, the woman was put into a wheel barrow and her husband pushed her all the way to the store. For those who lived in the holler (a hollow nestled in the mountains) it could be a long ride on unpaved roads.
Most people who grew up in our valley knew to expect this. It was not always on the first night because it was a real surprise if the timing was unknown. For the poor people who were from away, this custom could be quite unsettling, although always based in good fun.
My Own Serenade
This custom was still ongoing in 1974 when I married my first husband. We knew it was coming eventually, but the timing was, of course, unknown. The anticipation was the worst part! He thought it would be funny to sneak out the back when the commotion began, but when people surround your house shooting off 22s (a rifle) you think twice about it.
I was not put into a wheel barrow. We did get paraded to the store with the sound of cowbells along with banging on pots and pans and the occasional rifle being fired into the air. We got to the store where we bought snacks for the 30 or so people and then went back home, laughing but also glad it was over.
As I write this, I think how frightening this might sound to some. Even now, after moving back to the mountains, I have a physical reaction when I hear guns being fired by hunters or those target shooting.
I asked my brother if anyone was ever serenaded these days. He could not remember anyone in recent memory. It is a different time, indeed. We no longer always know our neighbors or necessarily associate with them. I suppose it’s best left as a memory of a time gone by.