Guy Fawkes Night

Last night was Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night, here in the UK.  Just about every park in the city had a fireworks display, and some of them had giant bonfires as well. The night is historically celebrated because of the failure of the Gunpowder Plot of 5 November 1605. (Don’t you like how I wrote that date all British-style?) I went out and watched a few fireworks, but it was raining and pretty cold, so I soon came home and spent the evening cuddling some scared moggies.

The Gunpowder Plot was the attempt, by a bunch of crazy Catholics, to assassinate James I and replace him with someone well, more Catholic.  Guy Fawkes was the gentleman responsible for placing the kegs of gunpowder beneath the House of Lords, but he was discovered and the men arrested.

Shortly afterwards, the government decided that the 5th of November should be kept as a day of Thanksgiving, and while it’s no longer technically on the calendar as such, everyone goes out and has a good time.

Guy Fawkes Night has changed a bit over the years. They were violently anti-Catholic for some years (because England was paranoid about a Spanish invasion), and then quieted down some during the English Civil War (apparently they had other things to worry about). After the Restoration things picked up again, and soon it became a night of drunkenness and pyromania.

In the 1670s people started burning effigies of Guy Fawkes, and this became one of the hallmarks of the evening that has only recently started to fade.  Apparently children used to build a “Guy”, and then place him on the sidewalk and ask people for donations so they could burn him up. Sometimes they burn effigies of other people just for fun; in the 80s Margaret Thatcher went up in flames quite a few times!

"A penny for the Guy" courtesy of Wikipedia

As I mentioned last weekend, Halloween is becoming more prominent here in the UK, and a lot of people think it is stealing the thunder of Guy Fawkes Night. Commentator David Cannadine has written:

“…[T]hese days, Bonfire Night is not the event it was when I was young. I can vividly remember that for me 5 November meant street-corner guys in rickety prams; roasted potatoes and chestnuts; and my father in our back garden lighting the blue touch paper on rockets, roman candles and catherine wheels, and then retiring. Nowadays, family bonfire gatherings are much less popular, and many once-large civic celebrations have been given up because of increasingly intrusive health and safety regulations. But 5 November has also been overtaken by a popular festival that barely existed when I was growing up, and that is Halloween…. Britain is not the Protestant nation it was when I was young: it is now a multi-faith society. And the Americanised Halloween is sweeping all before it – a vivid reminder of just how powerfully American culture and American consumerism can be transported across the Atlantic.”

This is the famous rhyme associated with Guy Fawkes Night.

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
To blow up the King and Parli’ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England’s overthrow;
By God’s providence [or By God’s mercyhe was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Hulloa boys, Hulloa boys, let the bells ring.
Hulloa boys, hulloa boys, God save the King!

A penny loaf to feed the Pope.
A farthing o’ cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we’ll say ol’ Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah!



Posted on 06/11/2010, in Silly British Things and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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