Growing up in England the 5th of November was an event to look forward to each year. In school we’d talk about the history of the night and why we celebrate it. We’d use coloured pens and black crayon to create pictures of fireworks and the night itself, was the one night in the year that fireworks were allowed.
When I was little you might be lucky enough to have them in your own back garden. As I grew older the rules became stricter and it was far more common to attend a community bonfire and fireworks display; though sparklers still prevailed throughout.
There’s nothing quite like writing your name in the air with a sparkler, as you stand by a roaring bonfire waiting for the spuds (jacket/baked potatoes) to cook in the embers of fire.
We’d often learn the poem about the event (below) by heart and it would be recited in our school assembly on the school day closest to the 5th of November.
In comparison to Canadian holidays, Guy Fawkes night is similar to a combination of both Canada Day and Thanksgiving, but with different food! We save turkey for Christmas!
The Fifth of November
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England’s overthrow.
But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James’s sake!
If you won’t give me one,
I’ll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!
English Folk Verse (c.1870)
For those of you that don’t know the story of Guy Fawkes; the simple version is that in 1605 he and his fellow Catholic conspirators plotted to blow up parliament and kill King James I in the hopes of ending the persecution they had felt under the reign of the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I, and that continued under King James I. They failed, were captured and were sentenced to death for treason. Guy Fawkes himself, jumped to his death from the scaffold platform. Regardless his body was still quartered and each piece sent North, South, East and West respectively as a deterrent to others.
To this day, parliament is searched the night before it reopens each November in memory of this event. Likewise, many of the bonfires will be topped by an effigy of Guy Fawkes (a scarecrow) and children will ask people for ‘a penny for the Guy’. In more modern times, the effigy may well be made to look more like a current politician.
If you’re interested in more information on Guy Fawkes night the English newspaper, the Telegraph, has a good write-up here.
As a child growing up in England, Guy Fawkes night was an integral part of autumn (fall) and was far more celebrated than Halloween. Though I understand that that tradition has now crossed the Atlantic and that Trick or Treating and Halloween has become as big an event there now too.
However, once Guy Fawkes night had been celebrated you knew that Christmas was really on its way!
Personally, I love the irony – only the Brits could have an annual event that celebrates attempted treason!