Monday, November 5

Please to remember..

"Please to remember,
the 5th of November,
Gunpowder, Treason, & Plot.

I see no reason,
Why Gunpowder Treason,
Should ever be forgot."


As a child, growing up in New Zealand, we used to mark the occasion of 5th of November. It became known as Fireworks night, or Cracker night, or, if you are of Gom's vintage & heritage, Bonfire Night.

Our Grandmother, who was English, told us the story of Guy Fawkes. This next passage is taken from Wikipedia.
'Guy Fawkes (13 April 157031 January 1606), was a member of a group of English Roman Catholics who attempted to carry out the Gunpowder Plot, an attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill King James I of England, to destroy Protestant rule by killing the Protestant aristocracy, on 5 November 1605.'
Guy Fawkes Night (also known as Bonfire Night) is an annual celebration on the evening of the 5th of November. It celebrates the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot of the 5th of November 1605 in which a number of Roman Catholic conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, attempted to blow up the Palace of Westminster.
And;
"It is primarily marked in the United Kingdom, but also in former British colonies including New Zealand, parts of Canada, and parts of the British Caribbean.[citation needed] Bonfire Night was also common in Australia until the 1980s[citation needed], but it was held on the Queen's Birthday long weekend in June.
Festivities are centred around the use of fireworks and the lighting of bonfires."


Our Grandmother told us that when she was a child living in England, the children would build a huge bonfire, & would make effigies of Guy Fawkes- hence the word guy, meaning a figure of ridicule or fun- and the children who lived in towns & cities would run about the streets calling for a 'penny for the Guy.'

As many of us in New Zealand were descended from the British Isles, Inhabitants, we continued with the tradition. I never built a guy or went door to door. Rural centres didn't bother with that tradition. Well, not in my northern Island little town. But Gom tells me they did, as children, & would plan their carts, & guys for weeks in advance. They would all get together & have a huge bonfire, which was lit once darkness fell- which could be quite late in the night, the further South you lived.

Purchased 'crackers' & fireworks would be lit, & set off. Rows of small Chinese crackers known as 'bangers' would be thrown at each other, & it was deemed to be all good fun. In my childhood we never attended large bonfires, but usually our Uncle would construct a bonfire, with our assistance, & our mother would find money to buy a few crackers or rockets, & other slightly 'exotic' fireworks, which would be carefully set off by the adults present.

I remember being rather frightened of the fireworks, & heeded all warnings to steer clear. Boys on the other hand, tended to love to play with the fireworks, & would set them off well before the November 5th date. Often with terrible consequences. Eyes were lost, some children lost limbs digits, or suffered hideous burns.

A lonely woman campaigned to have Bonfire night severely curtailed, & succeeded in getting sales of fireworks restricted. I had thought her name was Beverly Pentridge, but I can find no reference to her name on Google, & nothing in connection with her campaign to have restriction enforced. New Zealand still has the date recognized though I would doubt many children know the origin of the occasion today.

Because of the fire danger here in Australia, we dont have Bonfire night. There is a celebration, usually a public display only, on 4th July. I wont make any facetious remarks about politics here. Private fires are now banned because of fire danger, as are privat fireworks displays.

Happy Birthday, Andrew, whereever you are.

Joni Mitchell, The Last Time I Saw Richard

14 comments:

jellyhead said...

I had heard of Guy Fawkes' night, but never knew when it was. You are forever educating me with your posts, Meggie!

Thanks too for your comment on my post - never fear, I am not too sad, was just dragging my feet this morning and wishing to stay home instead!

crafty said...

I remember bonfire night before it was banned. We used to drag old logs up from the creek to build the bonfire, and I remember one of the neighbourhood Dads who was an explosives engineer or something blowing up stuff (or perhaps that was after it was banned, as a substitute?).
The kids were never allowed anywhere near the action.

Lazy cow said...

My daughter's class at school made a Guy this week. I don't remember bonfires, but when I was a kid we'd always have sparklers and Catherine wheels.

anne bebbington said...

I had no idea that Guy Fawkes Night was celebrated in NZ too - up in Yorkshire it was always colloquially known as 'Plot Neet' (plot night) after the gunpowder plot. As kids we would go 'chumping' which meant scrounging scrap wood, old tyres and anything else compustible to go on the huge bonfires which sprung up on recreation grounds and parks around the neighbourhood. Our local church always had a huge bonfire and one year a member of the congregation managed to get hold of two or three wool skeps (the giant wicker baskets used in the sadly now defunct local woollen mills) these burnt a real treat. Nowadays the politically correct and health and safety people would never comdone all this sort of behaviour so you see very few bonfires and mainly only large organised firework displays. When I was about 12 a boy in my class had an accident trying to make his own fireworks and completely lost the middle finger of both hands right back to the palm of each hand - we were always a little scared of his hands when he eventually returned to school. Mind you I dare say it put off all the other boys from playing with them.

joyce said...

My DIL's family is British and they always burned a Guy. She tried to instigate it here with our family but somehow it just didn't take. We were more interested in roasting hot dogs and eating. Lol.

Mike said...

I have heard of this event, but being American we don't celebrate the day. Your story is interesting because I was just talking to a friend the other day about fireworks. About how when we were kids, they were so common but now they are impossible to buy. Too many kids hurt themselves, so a lot of states, mine included, banned the sale of them.

In their absence, a lot of revelers now prefer to fire off guns to celebrate things. Yeah, that's real bright!

Tanya Brown said...

Yes! I remember Guy Fawkes Night! When we lived in AU, my mother made a cake with little log-like decorations made of marzipan dusted in cocoa powder. A sort of dessert imitation of the bonfire, sans the effigy. We Americans are good at reducing others' customs and holidays down to desserts and things made of plastic, doncha know.

Open Grove Claudia said...

That's fascinating! I have never heard of Guy Fawkes or his night. Thanks for sharing this!

Ragged Roses said...

I love that Joni Mitchell song! We're in the middle of a rather drizzly bonfire night here. My youngest hates them and the eldest loves them. So we compromise with sparklers in the garden and they go up to the top bedroom to watch other people;s fireworks from the window. The cats are petrified and are hiding under piles of eiderdowns. I love fireworks but can't remember the last time I saw a Guy. When I was younger, children would always be knocking on the door asking for a penny for the guy. In Lewes, which is a town near where I live in East Sussex, they have the most riotous bonfire celebrations. You might be able to google it.
Kim x

ancient one said...

another tradition I'd never heard of... learn something new every day.. I had noticed that lots of kids over here now want bonfires at their birthday parties, etc.. but I don't know why... ???

French Knots said...

We've just had our fireworks in the garden (in England) together with treacle toffee and toffee apples. We haven't really got room in our little garden for a bonfire but I always had one as a child.

Thimbleanna said...

How interesting Meggie! I thought Guy Fawkes was only celebrated in the UK? And the 4th of July? I thought that was only celebrated here in the US. Hmmmm.

Emma said...

Guy Fawkes Day is also my youngest child's birthday. My kids know about the Gunpowder Plot, and we celebrate his birthday with sparklers, since fireworks are illegal here too. I am not too unhappy about the illegality. There are lots of opportunities for us to see fireworks other days, though certainly NOT on July 4th!

Lucy said...

Mmm, smell of fireworks and baked potatoes...
My dad and brothers bringing the guy to the fire to be burned, a rather scary sacrificial thing, the destuction of our creative efforts and old clothes and of course burning the human form.
In Lewes in East Sussex it's still aneffigy of the Pope they burn, which may well have been the origin.
The fireworks were scary too, they used to hammer it home ad nauseam at school about the dangers, mostly I was worried for our animals.
Now when I try to explain the history and customs to my French students, I'm made aware of how grim and violent and sectarian it all is, in a way that one never is when it's a familiar part of one's culture.