Reading logs                                                                                      Megan Mckinlay

Charivaris evolved from being a simple ritual used to embarrass newly married couples into a way of forcing the Government to listen to the people. The charivari was traditionally used to embarrass a mismatched marriage such as an old man marrying a younger woman or vice versa. In 1837 the term evolved to mean a ritual that attacked the government in hopes of forcing them to listen to the people and change their ways.

Originally the term was used to describe a French tradition of defending the sacrament of marriage. A Charivari was an aggressive ritual social event meant to embarrass the target. A group of young men would get together, and dress up as old men, sailors, priests, etc. They would all go to the targets house with a coffin and perform a mock funeral. This would go on with events more and more elaborate until the target entertains the men and pays them. Part of the money pays for the charivari and part for a charity. The targets were usually older men or women marrying a younger partner but could be anyone involved in a mismatched marriage. Susanna Moodle states there is one instance where a charivari targeted a black man who married a white woman (1). Unlike most charivari this instance was particularly violent; most charivari were just intended to embarrass the target, not hurt or kill.

The term Charivari started to be misused to describe ritual attacks against government partisans. The people in Lower Canada were tired of the government officials saying no to bills proposed by the house of assembly. 1837 was the beginning of the political charivaris; they started in august and went until November. They started out as spontaneous and then gravitated to organized events used as strategic attacks. the French-Canadien revolutionary group known as the Patriots caused the shift from spontaneous to strategic attacks. Greer states, “Charivari presumed a sort of ‘people power’” (2). They did empower the people; charivaris were used to pressure the government to hear the peoples needs. Many characteristics of traditional charivaris remained but the ritual had evolved and was not being used in its original intention.


  1. Susanna Moodle, Roughing it in the bush, or, Life in Canada. (Toronto: Hunter, Rose; Montreal: Dawson, 1872), 252.
  2. Allen Greer, “From folklore to revolution: charivaris and the Lower Canadian rebellion of 1837” social history 15:1 (1990), 34.