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Old Wedding Tradition Rings a Bell

Remember Horace and Myra's wedding day and how the townspeople did their best to make sure their wedding night was 'memorable'? Well the custom of 'shivare' goes back a long way.

The other day some friends were driving through Senecaville in Guernesey County when they heard the darnedest racket.

The were startled because Senecaville is normally a quiet, sleepy little village. The biggest thing to happen there was when Confederate raiders under Gen. John Hunt Morgan rode through during the Civil War.

My Friends turned their car around and drove back to investigate the ruckus.

They found dozens of folks ringing bells and banging on pots, pans and washtubs.

What was happening was that the pastor of Senecaville United Methodist Church, Jim Ellison, had just married Sylvia White, and the congregations of that church and nearby Mount Ephraim Methodist, along with their neighbors, were giving them a 'belling'.

Ellison told me that 25 or 30 folks were making noise "with most anything they could find" while he wheeled his bride around the block in a wheelbarrow. The clatter continued until he pulled up to the door of the parsonage and took her in.

Now, belling is an old time custom. The word belling is used in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and West Virginia, but in other parts of the country the practice is sometimes called a shivare or charivari.

Sometimes cowbells were rung. Shotguns were fired, whistles were blown and saw blades were banged to add to the clamor.

One friend told me that the custom of tying tin cans on the bumper of the newlyweds' car is a spinoff of belling. She remembered bellings in her hometown of Tippecanoe in Harrison County.

The crack 'Dispatch' library staff found information for me that said the object of belling was to keep the groom away from his bride on their wedding night. In the old days, couples did not go on a honeymoon.

One item on the Internet said, "The chivaree is a playful but rowdy gathering in which a newlywed couple's friends make their wedding night a nightmare filled with noise. Banging on pots, pans and washtubs, ringing bells outside the location the couple was staying was the standard. Early chivarees included the shooting of shotguns and an invitation from the bridal couple to come inside with cigars for the gentlemen and lemonade or tea for the ladies."

The account said that in some places, the bride was carted around in a tub or a wheelbarrow, as the pastor's wife was in Senecaville.

I also found some information that said the custom might have come from ancient Europe and was meant to drive evil spirits away from the newlyweds.

I think it's wonderful when folks keep customs alive in these days when many traditions don't mean a hoot.

©John Switzer- Columbus Dispatch