Tonight is Guy Fawkes Night, and from my window I can see a fair number of fireworks in the sky. I’ve heard a lot of discussion lately as to whether we should continue celebrating Guy Fawkes Night.
For those of you not in the UK, November 5th has been known as Guy Fawkes Night (or Bonfire or Fireworks Night) probably since the early 17th Century. It celebrates the capture of Guido (Guy) Fawkes whilst he was attempting to plant gunpowder underneath the Houses of Parliament. His plan, along with several other Catholics was to kill the protestant King James I of England (who was also King James VI of Scotland) and most of the Royal Family. He was captured, tried and executed. An Act of Parliament (3 James I, cap 1) was passed which decreed that November 5th should a day of thanksgiving for saving of the King’s life.
Every year, bonfires are lit, effigies of Guy Fawkes are burned on them. People also set off fireworks during the evening. In Lewes, a few miles from Brighton, there is always a series of bonfires across the town. All the roads have to be shut, and in effect the town shuts down for the event. On some of their bonfires, not only are guys burnt, but other effigies, such as the Pope. The reason behind this is that it celebrates the burning of 17 local Protestant martyrs.
There are several arguments put forward by people who claim we should no longer celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. The first is because they feel it inappropriate to burn effigies, especially that of the Pope. The second reason for stopping the event is due to the fact that it is no longer one night. We now have “Guy Fawkes Season”. For several weeks before November 5th, we have fireworks being let off. This can be annoying, frightening and dangerous for both people and animals. A third reason is that it is a dangerous event. Every year people get injured by fireworks and bonfires, and fatalities are not unknown.
Whilst I accept that all these are valid reasons to stop the celebrations, I feel that this would be wrong. This is a tradition which has been going on for over 400 years. At a time when we are seeing new traditions and customs being brought to this country by immigrants*, I feel it is important to maintain our own as well. Perhaps the way forward is only have community organised celebrations and prevent the sale of fireworks to the general public. These could be held either on Guy Fawkes Night itself, or the nearest weekend. People could still have the bonfire on the night if they wished, but they would not have any fireworks.
I’m proud to be English, and I would like to see our customs and traditions continue. At least for the foreseeable future
Finally, did you now that today’s meaning of the “guy” as a male is all down to Guy Fawkes Night? Due to the fact that effigy burned on the bonfire was often shabbily dressed, in the 19th Century any man dressed in this manner became known as a “guy”. Eventually, over the years, the word has come to mean what it does today, any male.
* Please note: I am all in favour of people from other countries maintaining their own traditions when they come to live here. And I use the term “immigrant” in it’s true sense: someone who has come to live here from another country.