Updated: Nov 5, 2017
If you are in the UK around the 5th of November you’ll notice in almost every community from large cities to tiny villages, there are fireworks displays and bonfires. Sometime called Bonfire Night, Fireworks Night or Guy Fawkes Night, it is a celebration where the grown ups may be found enjoying warmed cider and humburgers, while trying to ensure the kids don’t get burnt swinging sparklers around! It is one of the few occasions in the year where the whole community gathers, where you bump into friends and neighbours you haven’t seen for ages.
Top Tip: wear gloves, wellies, hats and wrap up warm, it is November in the UK, it gets cold!
But for many it may seem like an odd tradition throwing a scarecrow representing someone called Guy on to a huge bonfire while small children cheer. And when you hear that it’s celebrating a failed terrorist attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament by religious extremists, you might this it sounds like it’s about a James Bond film, rather than a 400 year old chapter in British history.
Remember Remember the 5th of November, The Gunpowder Treason and plot; I know of no reason why Gunpowder Treason Should ever be forgot.
I love history, and each year growing up in the UK the story of the gunpowder plot would be taught to school children, with tales of Guy Fawkes and his conspirators who planned to blow up the House of Lords when King James I opened parliament, and how he was discovered with enough explosives to reduce it to rubble and kill all the members of parliament, councilors, all the Lords and the Royal Family.
Then we would do some craft activity, drawing fireworks and use lots of glitter and colloured tissue paper. This may seem a bit strange, but it's apart of learning the history of your country and learning where traditions come from.
example of my son's school art for Fireworks Night
However a recent BBC drama, Gunpowder showed more of the background of why this group of Catholic conspirators felt compelled to carry out this attack in a time where Catholics were severely persecuted after years of religious attacks, rebellions, and wars, ever since Henry VIII broke away from Rome in the Reformation in the 1530's. In 1605 a prominently Catholic from a wealthy family Robert Catesby, led a group of 12 conspirators (including the mercenary Guy Fawkes) in the plot, after hopes faded of King James I improving religious tolerance in England. The plot failed when the authorities were warned of the impending attack and the conspirators were rounded up and executed. If it was successful it is estimated the 36 barrels of explosives could have killed 30,000 people with the fire it would have created in the croweded streets of London, wiping out the whole government and bureaucratic system of Britain in one day. The 5th of November was then celebrated as a day of Thanksgiving that the King was saved, with bonfires and fireworks throughout the country and is a tradition that has continued to this day.
Watching this series, it made me think of modern day extremism and makes me sad to think how not much has changed and how we still haven't learnt that treating people differently based on things like race or religion is something that should be banished to history.
So this year when you are with your friends and family watching fireworks, and making sure the kids are wearing gloves while holding their sparklers, lets use this celebration as an opportunity to come together as a community with food and tell stories around a fire. Something which goes back to the dawn of humanity, bringing us all together.
please remember to wear gloves when holding sparklers (unlike this picture) and keep safe on Bonfire Night!
Are there any historical celebrations in your country? I would love to hear about them in the comments below.