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.

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14 thoughts on “Guy Fawkes night

  1. Wow, didn’t realise that fireworks were banned in Australia. Yes, 5th November is a fun and also a very primal time. It’s weird when you look into the history of Catholics and Protestants and look back and wonder about the hatred in our history and what we have taken from it. Glad you enjoyed it.

    1. Yes, fireworks were banned in Australia in the 1970s I think, or sometime around then. It was to prevent injury and bush fires. Even if fireworks were still allowed, bonfires are most certainly not and for good reason – bush fires.

  2. I learned the reason and why of Guy Fawkes earlier this month from another blogger. I wondered what the other side of the story was and what the reason of the up rising was. I then read more about it. I can understand it being celebrated and remembered or commemorated for a while but for hundreds of years? I am not debating anything!!! 😦 lol
    I think hangin’ around a bonfire with a warm drink and fun songs would be a nice family affair. I could get the hang of that. 🙂

    1. Yes, it was lovely and warm around that huge bonfire even from a good distance away. I guess humans like an excuse to celebrate and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  3. Children used to make their own effigy and wait at a suitable venue and ask “penny for the guy” which became a euphemism for “spare change”. The money would be spent on fireworks and/or sweets.

    Perhaps the event lasted in part because of children, in the same way that playground games/songs did, and because it delights children and the community.

    1. Next year I’m going to make an effigy of a car.

      You make a good point about children making the event last. I guess we can say the same for Christmas and Easter and the Tooth fairy and lots of other things that a widely celebrated by people who are not at all religious.

  4. I suppose It’s no surprise they celebrate november 5th with gusto north of the border as James I was a scot. Folks may be aware of the history but as you say what they are really celebrating is community and gathering everyone around a big fire must go back a very long time, especially considering how little light from anywhere else there once must have been in winter time

    1. Yes, the dark and the cold is very conducive to huddling around a large bonfire and drinking mulled wine. This is not something that is replicated in the Southern Hemisphere since it’s usually warm at this time of year and still light into the early evening.

  5. I come from Groningen and here we celebrate “Bommen Berend” every year. Bommen Berend was the bishop of Munster who wanted to concur Groningen was defeated in 1672. It is an official work-free holiday with fireworks and a huge fancy fair.

    It is important enough for an English Wikipedia page: The Siege of Groningen was a battle that took place in 1672 during the Franco-Dutch war. It was a Dutch victory that ended all hope of the Bishop of Münster to push deeper into the Netherlands. The Münster army was so weakened by the defeat that the Dutch army successfully reconquered much of the land that Münster had conquered just weeks earlier. Every year, the city of Groningen celebrates its victory as a local holiday on August 28.

    1. That sounds really nice, Victor. Is it only celebrated in Groningen? Guy Fawkes is a big deal here but it isn’t a public holiday. That doesn’t seem to stop people from celebrating it though.

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