If you’ve been following the news about the student unrest in Montreal, you’ll have heard that this past week a new twist emerged in the protests. Each night at 8 p.m., people all over the city emerge onto their porches, balconies and lawns, or head into the streets, and for half an hour or so bang on empty pots and pans (casseroles, in French) as a noisy but peaceful way of saying that they’re unhappy with the provincial government – over its stand on raising university tuition fees, but perhaps even more so over its emergency law that sets some rules for protest actions against the tuition increase. This is what it sounds like (or at least did, from our front balcony last night):
The casserole protest was an idea born in the 1970s in Chile, when ordinary citizens unhappy about shortages of goods would beat on pots and pans to indicate that there was nothing in those pots and pans to cook. You can read about that here.
What’s the connection between all this and Queensborough, you ask? Well, as I was reading a story by the Montreal Gazette’s Jeff Heinrich about the casserole protest, I was struck by this sentence:
“There’s an even older tradition in New Brunswick called ‘le tintamarre’ (itself inspired by the medieval French custom of ‘le charivari’ – banging pots and pans as a wedding celebration).”
What Jeff, urban-type reporter that he is, might not know is that in parts of rural Canada – or Ontario, at least; or Queensborough, at the very least – the word “charivari” became “chivaree” and the old French tradition continued, at least into the early part of the second half of the 20th century.
I confess I was never part of or witness to a chivaree – no doubt because of my being a little kid – but growing up in Queensborough in the 1960s and early ’70s I frequently heard that one had taken place in the village and environs. My understanding of what would go down is this:
A newly married couple just returned from their honeymoon would be minding their own business in their own home. Under cover of darkness in the middle of the night – because that’s when the couple would be expected to be sleeping or, perhaps more to the point, enjoying “marital relations” – a group of friends and neighbours would arrive (perhaps in the back of one or more pickup trucks?) banging pots and pans and generally making as much noise as they possibly could. I confess I do not know what happened after the couple was rousted from their bed; were they taken away for a celebration somewhere? Did the celebration happen on the premises? Was there food and/or drink involved? Music? Costumes, even? Perhaps some readers will know more about that. What I do know is that a noisy and merry time was had by all, and everyone eventually went home happy, the newlyweds having been sufficiently disturbed/embarrassed/fêted.
And here’s a word to add to your vocabulary: a couple who had undergone the chivaree treatment were said to have been “chivareed.” You have to love that.