Appalachian Weddings: Jumping the Broom and Shivaree

Jumping-the-Broom-Wedding-Ceremony-Tradition.jpgImagine a marriage conducted back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The circuit preacher pronouncing the couple Man and Wife followed by this custom: you will now “jump over this broom on the ground before you.

“Jumping the boom stick” was an old world custom most likely originating in Africa and eventually brought to America. It became popular in the frontier of Appalachia maybe as early as the late 1700s. The purpose of a married couple concluding their marriage ceremony (which was very simple in early times) with jumping together over a broom to symbolize “sweeping” away their past to begin anew as husband and wife. Not a bad idea using that meaningful process. However, I have known a few men who claimed to have “jumped the broom” more than once. It was done in Catawba with both the white folks and more so, the black community. As a minister, I have performed a number of marriages but not any that involved a broom.

It was a saying around Catawba for years even though the couple referenced did not do the act. For instance, men would be sitting around Keffer’s store in Catawba during a Friday night and just sharing information. Now with women folk, I would say gossiping, but for men it would be sharing information. But I reckon it would be gossiping either way. So, someone would say, “I hear old John got married last week?” Someone would answer, “Yeah, he and Maude finally jumped the broom stick.” I have used the expression myself throughout my lifetime, raising some eyebrows in the process.

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Shivaree is definitely a “ horse of another color.” Shivaree is an old world term which we Appalachians have substituted the word “Serenade”. Before the movement of the settlers from Europe to the Appalachian mountains range, they had practiced the event of shivaree after a couple got married or jumped the broom if you will.

Custom has it that after marriage and a honeymoon a couple would be serenaded or celebrated by a group of friends and kin. They would come unannounced, to the house of the newlyweds with a great revelry of noise awakening the couple, forcing them to come outside demanding candy, sweets, and cigars. Sometimes the groom would have to push his bride around in a wheelbarrow, and the groom would be carried on a rail around the house several times while the crowd banged pots and pans, sometimes shooting guns to create an extremely loud environment. It could get to the point of the serenaders entering a house and removing the bride and groom from their bedroom. Folks, you could not make up the kind of stuff.

Back in 1958, a just married young couple in the mountains  moved in with the groom’s mother and father. A week or so after the marriage all four residents had retired for the night, and all lights were off. Their sleep would be interrupted by voices yelling, the beating of spoons on pans, a cow bell ringing, two or three “cherry bombs exploding, a blast from what sounded like a 16 gauge shotgun. Unsure of whether or not this was a nightmare or reality the bridegroom looked out an upstairs window and saw a yard full of familiar faces waving and shouting, “come out here this is a serenade! His Pa and Ma were awake, so he asked them what to do. They advised him to get dressed and get outside before all of Catawba was awakened. The bride and groom quickly dressed and stepped out the door into the yard with the noise escalating as multiple voices were proclaiming; “this is a serenade, demanding cigars and candy treats. The newlyweds stated they had no such items in the house. Not the right answer as several of the young men swooped in and grabbed the bridegroom and lifted him upon an eight-foot-long chestnut rail and had him straddle it. Holding him on the rail as if he was on a horse they ran around the house with the rider hanging on for dear life, bouncing up and down on that narrow piece of wood. The noise and yelling got even louder as the rail holders completed the third trip around the house. Again, they demanded candy and cigars, candy and cigars. Someone in the crowd volunteered to go out to the nearby Keffer’s store getting the operator to open up and purchased a box of cigars and a box of Hershey bars. Finally, mercifully, after one more rail ride the groom was allowed to touch the ground. Then it ended. Another Catawba marriage and another serenade occurring. I will not name any names, but it was “painful” for me to write this story.

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One thought on “Appalachian Weddings: Jumping the Broom and Shivaree

  1. I never jumped a broom but I helped serenade several newlyweds including a dashing young groom and his beautiful bride in downtown Catawba.

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