Bonfire Night

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Tonight is Bonfire Night (aka Guy Fawkes Night). Bonfire Night is a holiday (that's a bit sick and twisted) celebrated in England. It is a celebration of the capture of Guy Fawkes and stopping his plot (known today as the Gunpowder plot) to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill King James I. Guy Fawkes, who was in the cellar of the parliament with the 36 barrels of gunpowder when the authorities stormed it, was caught, tortured, hung and quartered. The tradition of Guy Fawkes-related bonfires began that very same year (400 years ago). Londoners who knew little more than that their King had been saved, lit bonfires in celebration.


As years progressed, the ritual became more elaborate. Soon, people began placing dummies of Guy Fawkes and sometimes those of the Pope onto bonfires, and fireworks were added to the celebrations. Still today, some communities throw dummies of both Guy Fawkes and the Pope on the bonfire (and even those of a contemporary politician or two), although they say the gesture is seen by most as a quirky tradition, rather than an expression of hostility towards the Pope.


Preparations for Bonfire Night celebrations for children include making a dummy of Guy Fawkes, which is called "the Guy". Some children even keep up an old tradition of walking in the streets, carrying "the Guy" they have just made, and beg passers-by for "a penny for the Guy." The kids use the money to buy fireworks for the evening festivities. They have competitions as well where the children compete against each other to create the best 'Guy'. The winner gets to have theirs at the top of that town's bonfire and the other children throw theirs into the blaze after it's set (this to me is twisted, and I have informed my husband that no child of mine will ever participate in such activities).


On the night itself (Nov. 5th) and for weeks following, main towns and cities have huge celebrations every year where 1000s gather. There are torch lit processionals where hundreds of people walk through the streets wearing costumes, playing drums with blackened faces. The processional leads to where the bonfire is lit. Guy is placed on top of the bonfire, which is then set alight; and fireworks displays fill the sky.



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