Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot…
Every British schoolchild is familiar with this rhyme, but I wonder how much of the rest of the world know of Guy Fawkes Night? It’s one of our more macabre festivals (aka Bonfire Night), where every fifth of November we set off fireworks, light bonfires and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes, the man who attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament on that date in 1605. Other effigies sometimes get burnt too—unpopular politicians are often a target. I predict there’ll be a few Jimmy Savile Guys going up in flames this year too.
Coming so close as it does to Halloween, it’s hardly surprising that here in Britain people tend to make more of a big deal of Guy Fawkes Night. The fireworks don’t hurt, either. There’s a communal, festive air to Bonfire Night, and most towns and villages have a fireworks display. When I was a child we were blessed with a large garden, so we’d invite friends and relatives over. As my sisters and I made a Guy out of old clothes stuffed with newspaper, Dad would be preparing the bonfire, building up a huge pyre at the wild end of the garden. The flames were incredible, shooting up into the sky and sending up sparks of burning leaves with them. We’d wrap potatoes in foil and bake them in there, and once the fire had died down enough to see them properly, Dad would begin the fireworks display. It’s one of my fondest childhood memories.
By contrast, Halloween might as well not have existed. This was partly because my born again Christian parents considered it akin to Satanism (they’ve mellowed now, I’m relieved to say), and we never had any trick or treaters call because we lived right on the edge of town. These days I enjoy carving a pumpkin and dressing up, and I took Daisy on a very small trick or treating expedition last year, but my heart is still with Bonfire Night. It’s not that I have anything against Guy Fawkes, particularly (I don’t burn a Guy these days), but more because of those warm childhood memories, and the wonderful fragrance of a bonfire on a damp, chilly evening. Oh, all right. The fireworks too. I’m a sucker for a good fireworks display. This year we’ll be having a family fireworks display in Mum and Dad’s garden, although the bonfire has had to be downgraded to a brazier these days, as their garden isn’t as big in this house.
Brits, which festival do you prefer and why? And to the rest of the world, how do you celebrate Halloween? Or do you have a different festival altogether?