Bonfire Night Is Bonkers

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot…

Guy Fawkes & the Gunpowder Plot
Words of “Remember Remember” refer to Guy Fawkes with origins in 17th century English history. On the 5th November 1605 Guy Fawkes was caught in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament with several dozen barrels of gunpowder. Guy Fawkes was subsequently tried as a traitor with his co-conspirators for plotting against the government. He was tried by Judge Popham who came to London specifically for the trial from his country manor Littlecote House in Hungerford, Gloucestershire. Fawkes was sentenced to death and the form of the execution was one of the most horrendous ever practised (hung ,drawn and quartered) which reflected the serious nature of the crime of treason.

The Tradition begins…
The following year in 1606 it became an annual custom for the King and Parliament to commission a sermon to commemorate the event. Lancelot Andrewes delivered the first of many Gunpowder Plot Sermons. This practice, together with the nursery rhyme, ensured that this crime would never be forgotten! Hence the words ” Remember , remember the 5th of November” The poem is sometimes referred to as ‘Please to remember the fifth of November’. It serves as a warning to each new generation that treason will never be forgotten.

In England the 5th of November is still commemorated each year with fireworks and bonfires culminating with the burning of effigies of Guy Fawkes (the guy). The ‘guys’ are made by children by filling old clothes with crumpled newspapers to look like a man.

Tradition allows British children to display their ‘guys’ to passers-by and asking for ” A penny for the guy”.

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On Saturday, I stood in car park in Farnham with my kids and friends as part of a torchlight procession that walked slowly up the hill to Farnham park and watched a large effigy of a man be burnt on a huge bonfire. I couldn’t help thinking that Bonfire Night is bonkers and should we really in 2010 be burning effigies of a man who failed to blow up parliament over 400 years ago on large wood filled pyres. It all felt a bit wrong.

I hail originally from the motherland of Yorkshire. It is still prevalent there for the kids to make guys from tights stuffed, with newspaper for heads and old rotting clothes. 36 years ago we would wheel our effigy around Tennent Road, in a wheel barrow chanting ‘penny for a guy’. The pennies were mainly used to buy sweets from Micheal (R.I.P) at the newsagents on the corner.

A few years ago, my oldest friend’s (who still resides in York) six year old son, with his older cousins, lovingly constructed all day, a marvellous guy, duly wheeled him around Tennent Road, chanting ‘penny for a guy’. The same night, his grandpa, who I used to call Uncle Festa (on account of his similarity to the original Adam’s family character), built a bonfire in the garden, loaded it up with potatoes wrapped in tin foil, and neatly arranged the fireworks ready for igniting. The night fell and the stars twinkled and they all cheered as he lit the fire. The cousins ran to get the guy to cast him into the flames, when my friend clocked the face of her mortified six year old. This guy that they had lovingly created and heralded all day was to be cast into the flames and burnt in front of them. Quite frankly, he was inconsolable and in the end they had to take him home.

As I stood watching for another year as another guy went up in flames, I wondered should we really be burning effigies of men still, 400 years on, in 2010?


14 thoughts on “Bonfire Night Is Bonkers

  1. Totally agree. There is something really mediaeval about the whole thing as opposed to a primitive worship of fire which I could understand a little more.

  2. My kids asked me why we would want to burn an effigy! We didn’t have one at our bonfire night but we did enjoy the most brilliant fireworks display. It is a strange thing this effigy burning thing, I’m glad we seem to have dropped the tradition in our neck of the woods.

  3. Ahhh, poor old Mr Fawkes, the only man to truly ever enter the houses of parliament with honest intentions and integrity of character…..and they had him hung drawn and quartered for those beliefs. A just society then? Would it be much different today? Hmmm…

  4. I can’t stand bonfire night. For one, it’s about religious persecution and terrorism, and for another, it’s too fucking cold to go outside at this time of year and hang around pretending to be exicited by crappy fireworks. Give me Halloween hocus pocus any day.

  5. Wow, this was fascinating to me. As an American, I had never heard about this before and now I’m wondering if this is the origin of the slang word, “guy”? As far as medieval holidays goes though, I think we are surrounded. Most holidays are really a bunch of wierd crap if you think about it.

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