Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Just What Is Bonfire Night?

On Monday night we went to the village's annual fireworks for Bonfire Night, otherwise known as Guy Fawkes Day (Or Night? I'm not sure). This is one of those villagey events that warms the heart and makes me glad I live in a small place where everyone knows everyone else, or just about. We congregate in the sports hall of the private school, where parents serve drinks and my children beg for toffee apples. (Has anyone, I wonder, ever finished a toffee apple? When I have relented and bought one, my child takes maybe two bites and then hands me the sticky mess. They look delicious, but they're not. They're apples on sticks with a little bit of covering.)

I recognize most of the people there, and usually manage to chat to quite a few, although this year I was chasing my fearless toddler, who thinks nothing of zigzagging through the crowds at full tilt, in search of the door to the outside and freedom. Then there are the fireworks, which are quite spectacular for a village our size.

This is a photo I took on the night; sorry it's blurry. But there is a sense of solidarity, standing outside in the cold and the dark, watching something together. It makes you feel part of a community. Which is why it's easy to forget the origin of Guy Fawkes Day, which is remembering a man who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605. Apparently people lit bonfires in thanksgiving for the king's life being spared, and Guy Fawkes was tortured, hung, and then quartered, with the parts of his body being sent to the four corners of the kingdom. Try explaining that to your six-year-old.

In many parts of the country people still burn a 'Guy' or a straw man on the bonfire, although this custom did not actually start until the mid 1800s, due to a high anti-Catholic sentiment at the time. There are few effigies burned in West Cumbria,  as it has a large number of Catholics, for which I'm thankful, because I don't think I'd like to explain that element to my children.

However, its grisly beginnings aside, I do enjoy Bonfire Night, or Fireworks Night, as we call it here, since there is no bonfire. And it seems appropriate to have fireworks to celebrate some fireworks that didn't happen. 

I included Bonfire Night in my upcoming book Rainy Day Sisters, and offered an American's perspective on some of the more gruesome aspects--having Guy Fawkes Day explained to me as a new ex-pat was, I remember, a bit unsettling. One good thing about having the country's annual fireworks day in November, at least, is that you don't have to wait until nine o'clock for it to be dark enough to set them off, as you do in America with the Fourth of July. We watched the fireworks and were home by eight o'clock. Excellent.

My eldest daughter was born (in England) on November 3, and the sound of fireworks can still bring me back to the days after her rather difficult birth, when I was cradling her and listening to the hiss and booms of fireworks going off in the distance. She turned sixteen on Monday and came to the Fireworks Night with me. And so time passes.

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