“Remember, Remember the fifth of November…” Since primary school we’ve all been more than familiar with the rhyme that has been passed down through four centuries, telling the explosive tale of a Yorkshire lad by the name of Guy Fawkes. Halloween has been and gone and glimpses of Christmas are steadily appearing on the high street, which only means one thing, Bonfire Night is upon us. It’s time to pull on the woollies, tuck into Parkin and enjoy the firework displays across the country.
It was last year whilst I was working as a Language Assistant in France that the peculiar nature of this autumnal celebration was highlighted. Taking away the traditional foods and customs we are left with the bones of the celebration of a man who died in the name of his religion and the survival of a once repressing Monarchy. Whilst teaching the young French students about Guy Fawkes’ failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill King James I in the process, one terrified student asked me, “So, you’re burned if you’re Catholic in England?” Naïve as the question may be, it made me realise the significance of how traditions are passed on from generation to generation; bypassing the most important details in the process.
Although the brutal origins of this tradition are often left forgotten in 1605, the political stigma of Bonfire night still has a burning resonance 407 years on. Throughout more recent decades, political demonstrators have often taken to the streets sporting Guy Fawkes masks, or replacing the ‘Guy’ effigy with that of politicians including Margaret Thatcher. Following the shenanigans of our ‘coalition’ government of the past two and a half years, it’s needless to say that there may be an unusually high number of new suggestions for this year’s ‘Guy’ at the top of the bonfire. Also on the increase this year is the number of young children and teenagers who stand outside shops asking, “Penny for the Guy?” Is this really an image of children having a bit of fun? Or a reflection of a society which is heading back in time where these children are relying of your pennies to feed themselves tonight?
In 2012, we may not be celebrating the death of a man fighting for his beliefs or even a monarchy that once suppressed the beliefs of their citizens. We should however cast a thought to where this is still happening today and realise how, in many respects, the world has failed to progress in over four centuries. Guy Fawkes on the other hand might be comforted to know that his legend reigns on in the political world. Politics aside, I, for one, will be waving my sparkler and joining in with the “oohs and aahs” across Hyde Park this Bonfire Night.