Guy Fawkes night

We went to a terrific Guy Fawkes night celebration recently. It was organised by our local community who used it as an opportunity to fundraise for a community garden in the area. They took donations and sold mulled wine and glow sticks and put on a fantastic fireworks display and bonfire. The atmosphere was wonderful with a couple of hundred people there at least.

Guy Fawkes night is sort-of celebrated in New Zealand but not to the same degree. People buy fireworks and set them off on the 5th of November each year but I don’t think many of them really know why they’re doing it – other than for entertainment value – or are aware of the history. It used to be celebrated in Australia too until fireworks were banned and now the 5th of November is just a day like any other.

In Britain, Guy Fawkes night is a big thing. Kids learn all about the history at school and how Guy Fawkes plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament to assassinate King James I in 1605. There are lots of celebrations around the country with fireworks and bonfires and they usually involve throwing an effigy of Guy Fawkes onto the fire. Watching this at the bonfire night we went to I couldn’t help but be struck by the strangeness of the whole thing. The assassination plot was so long ago. There must have been lots of plots to assassinate monarchs over the years; why pick this one? And why is it a celebration at all?

Just before the effigy was thrown onto the bonfire at the event we went to the crowd started chanting, “Burn him, burn him, burn him” over and over again. It was all a bit ritualistic and I was just thinking, what Neanderthals, what savages, until I heard my own almost 5-year-old chanting the same thing with as much passion and energy as everyone else. It was as though she’d been doing this her whole life and it was perfectly normal and something humans did. Perhaps it is.

The kids loved the night. They loved the fireworks, the bonfire, the atmosphere, the glow sticks, the toasted marshmallows at the end, and perhaps more than anything else, being part of a fun and vibrant community. I like that bit too.