Memories of Guy Fawkes Night


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/11/2022 (210 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

I hope you all had a happy Halloween. My childhood memories of the biggest fall community event in England weren’t of Halloween, but of Guy Fawkes Night. Also known as Bonfire Night or Fireworks Night, Nov. 5 was a night that neighborhood children looked forward to almost as much as Christmas.

About 50 years ago, health and safety regulations weren’t as strict as today, and Guy Fawkes events were typically organized by families living on the same street. The focal point was the building of a massive bonfire in a designated back yard. One of the biggest excitements was fireworks, and I recall saving my pocket money for weeks prior to the event to buy that special firework and discussing options with the other kids on the street. We also had fun building a “Guy” — an effigy made from old clothes stitched together and filled with paper and straw. Some children took the Guy door-to-door, asking for donations to help buy the fireworks.

On the night of the event, families would gather at the designated house and bring cocoa, soup, and various refreshments. I remember my mother wrapping potatoes in aluminum foil and placing them in the bonfire embers to cook. With the fire ablaze, sparklers were handed out and parents opened the carefully stored fireworks and let them off in the yard one by one. Tons of fun!

Supplied photo

A bonfire burns on Guy Fawkes Night, a traditional celebration commemorating a foiled plot to kill King James I.

At the time, I never really thought about why we celebrated the event. It was just great to have fun with the neighbours.

In fact, Guy Fawkes Night commemorates a significant historic event that occurred more than 400 years ago in England. In 1605, there was a plot to blow up the Parliament building and assassinate King James I. Owing to his military experience, a man named Guy Fawkes was brought into the team to organize the explosives. However, the plot was revealed anonymously to authorities and on Nov. 5, Guy Fawkes was discovered guarding explosives placed beneath the Parliament building, arrested, and then hanged for his crime.

The survival of the king was celebrated by the lighting of bonfires, and in 1606, the English Parliament passed an act enforcing a public day of thanksgiving on Nov. 5 for the failure of what became known as the Gunpowder Plot. This act was repealed 200 years later but the tradition was long-established by then.

Today, while celebrations still include bonfires and fireworks, they usually have controlled access and paid admission to prevent firework-related accidents. Although Fawkes was once seen as a traitor, he’s often remembered as a revolutionary hero – possibly due to the popularity of the 2005 movie V For Vendetta.

While I do have fond childhood memories of Guy Fawkes Night, events involving attacks on the government, insurrection and hanging seem rather more sombre these days.

Nick Barnes

Nick Barnes
Whyte Ridge community correspondent

Nick Barnes is a community correspondent for Whyte Ridge.

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