Guy Fawkes Night

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Guy Fawkes Night
Guy Fawkes Night
Festivities in Windsor Castle during Guy Fawkes night. Aquatint with etching, Paul Standby, September 1776
Also called Bonfire Night
Cracker Night
Fireworks Night
Bonny Night
Observed by United Kingdom and some of its former colonies
Type Cultural, Remembrance
Significance Foiling of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill King James I, in London in 1605
Date Evening of the 5th of November
Observances Bonfires, fireworks, etc.

Guy Fawkes Night (also known as Bonfire Night, Cracker Night, Fireworks Night, Bonny Night) is an annual celebration on the evening of the 5th of November. It celebrates the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot of the 5 November, 1605, in which a number of Catholic conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, were alleged to be attempting to blow-up the Houses of Parliament, in London, England.

It is primarily marked in the United Kingdom where it was compulsory, by fiat, until 1859, to celebrate the deliverance of the King of England; but, it is also celebrated in former British colonies including New Zealand, Newfoundland, and parts of the British Caribbean.[citation needed] Bonfire Night was celebrated in Australia until the mid- to late 1970s, when sale and public use of fireworks was made illegal and the celebration was effectively abolished. It is also celebrated in the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda.[1] Festivities are centred on the use of fireworks and the lighting of bonfires.


[edit] Global customs

[edit] Canada

In Canada, Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Night is largely unheard of in most provinces, although it is still celebrated in a few places. The tradition was planted along with other cultural practices of British colonists in the 19th century.[2] However practices have been modified over two centuries since arriving from the United Kingdom as the following reveals:

"The night is also still celebrated in Nanaimo, British Columbia. The custom was brought over by English coal miners that came to Nanaimo in the mid 1800s. They built very tall bonfires -- often 40 feet (12 metres) or taller, sometimes from "spare" railroad ties that they'd come across. Over the years in Nanaimo, by the 1960s the effigy of Guy Fawkes had disappeared, and so had the name -- it's just called "Bonfire Night" by the local children. Now (2006), the tradition has largely been lost altogether, and the few remaining celebrations that are held are mostly in private backyards."[3]

Guy Fawkes bonfires are still burnt in many parts of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The celebrations are widespread enough to merit recent mention by the provincial Minister of Environment and Conservation:

Tom Osborne, Minister of Environment and Conservation, today asked the general public to keep safety and the environment in mind when holding bonfires this weekend to celebrate Guy Fawkes night. “Holding bonfires on Guy Fawkes night is still a tradition in many areas of our province and we are asking those participating in a bonfire this year to ensure they clean up their area, especially our beaches, when the festivities are over,” said Minister Osborne. “We should always be mindful of the importance of our environment and do our part to keep it clean at all times, including events like Guy Fawkes night.”"[4]

[edit] South Africa

Guy Fawkes is widely celebrated in South Africa. However, the day has largely lost its meaning (although the history of Guy Fawkes is covered in the primary school history syllabus), and is seen more often as a reason to light fireworks. Bonfires with Fawkes effigies are not uncommon, although they are certainly not essential to Guy Fawkes celebrations in South Africa. Many schools and community centres stage fireworks displays that are used to raise money. Until government restrictions on the purchase of fireworks were introduced in the 1990s (primarily motivated by animal rights concerns), it was common for middle-class neighbourhoods to host quite elaborate informal fireworks displays. These have diminished of late, due to the necessity of obtaining a permit hold such events. Small, quiet fireworks (such as a "fountains" and "sparklers") are often lit at private home parties.

The government has allocated sections of public beaches to be used as sites for the firing of fireworks. These sites are usually plagued by pollution due to Guy Fawkes celebrations.

[edit] Colonial America

This day was celebrated in the Colonies and was called "Pope's Day". It was the high point of 'anti-popery' (in the term of the times) in New England. In the 1730s or earlier Boston's artisans commemorated the day with a parade and performances which mocked Catholicism and the Catholic Stuart pretender. It was also the day when the youth and the lower class ruled. They went door to door collecting money from the affluent to finance feasting and drinking.[5] George Washington forbade the celebration of the day among his troops due to its anti-Catholic and pro-British purpose.

[edit] Southern hemisphere

Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Night (and the weekend closest to it) is the main night for both amateur and official fireworks displays in the UK and New Zealand.

In Australia, Guy Fawkes Night has not been celebrated since the late 1970s, when sale and public use of fireworks was banned in most states and territories to prevent their misuse and personal injuries, and especially because of the danger of bushfires during hot Novembers. Prior to this ban, Guy Fawkes Night in Australia was widely celebrated with many private, backyard fireworks lightings and larger communal bonfires and fireworks displays in public spaces. Some recent immigrants to Australia from Britain cling to the British tradition and arrange private parties with bonfires and sparklers.

A pyrotechnic fountain.

In New Zealand, the sale of fireworks has been increasingly reduced. This is predominantly due to misuse by young people. Firecrackers have been banned since 1991, and rockets (or any firework where the firework itself flies) have been banned since 1994.[6] In 2007, the sale period for fireworks was reduced to the four days leading to Guy Fawkes Night, and the legal age to buy fireworks was raised from 14 to 18.[7] Despite those sales restrictions, there is actually no restriction on when one may light fireworks, only a restriction on when they may be sold.[8] There are some local bans on setting off fireworks, usually covering only the days around Guy Fawkes Night.[9] Ex Prime Minister Helen Clark considered banning the sale of personal fireworks in New Zealand,[10] although 2007 was one of the "quietest on record" according to the NZ fire service.[11] However the major New Zealand cities now hold their own popular public firework displays on Guy Fawkes night.

Guy Fawkes day was celebrated to some extent by South Africans of English descent, but the practice began dwindling by the 1960s. Personal fireworks were banned by the Apartheid-era government, which feared that fireworks could be converted into improvised explosive devices during periods of civil unrest. This development may have contributed to the decline of celebrations. However, South Africa's expulsion from the Commonwealth and distancing from Britain in the 1960s is another likely factor.

[edit] Caribbean

In the Caribbean nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the night is celebrated in the town of Barrouallie, on the main island of Saint Vincent's leeward side. The town's field comes ablaze as people come to see all of the traditional pyrotechnics.

In Antigua and Barbuda, Guy Fawkes Night used to be more popular back in the 1990s, until a fireworks ban made it almost non existent.

[edit] Traditional rhymes

Several traditional rhymes have accompanied the festivities. Sometimes 'God Save the king' can be replaced by 'God save the Queen' depending on who is on the throne.

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, t'was 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 he was catch'd (or by God's mercy*)
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring. (Holla*)
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
  • these words are used in by Battel Bonfire Boyes who carry on the tradition of bonfire at their annual event in Sussex. They have the honour of the longest continuous Guy Fawkes bonfire celebrations in the world.

The above traditional 'bonfire cry' is used at the society meeting immediately preceding the annual event, and prior to the lighting of the bonfire, and on other significant occasions.

Since the town of Lewes doesn't just focus on Guy Fawkes they add an extra verse to do with the Pope, reflecting the Catholic and Protestant struggle. This practice is unique to the Lewes Bonfire celebrations.

A penny loaf to feed the Pope
A farthing o' cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A fagot 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 hoorah!

A variant on the foregoing:

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot!
A stick or a stake for King James' sake
Will you please to give us a fagot
If you can't give us one, we'll take two;
The better for us and the worse for you!

Another piece of popular doggerel:

Guy, guy, guy
Poke him in the eye,
Put him on the bonfire,
And there let him die[3].

Or, today used frequently, instead of "Put him on the bonfire", "Hang him on a lampost".

...and another variant, sung by children in Lancashire whilst begging "A Penny For The Guy":

Remember, remember the fifth of November
It's Gunpowder Plot, we never forgot
Put your hand in your pocket and pull out your purse
A ha'penny or a penny will do you no harm
Who's that knocking at the window?
Who's that knocking at the door?
It's little Mary Ann with a candle in her hand
And she's going down the cellar for some coal

This is a South Lancashire song sung when knocking at doors asking for money to buy fireworks, or combustibles for a bonfire (known as "Cob-coaling"), there are many variations, this is a shorter one:

We come a Cob-coaling for Bonfire time,
Your coal and your money we hope to enjoy.
Fal-a-dee, fal-a-die, fal-a-diddly-i-do-day.
If you don't have a penny a ha'penny will do.
If you don't have a ha'penny, then God bless you.

The custom seems to have died out in the 1980s-1990s with the rise of the American import of "Trick-or-treating."

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

[edit] References

  • Nash, Gary, The Urban Crucible, The Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution, 1986, ISBN 0674930584

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