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Guy Fawkes Night - weird but wonderful

Fiona from the Summer School team, tells us about one of the UK's weirder Autumn celebrations.

When is Guy Fawkes Night and what do you do?  
Guy Fawkes Night - or Bonfire Night as it is also known - is celebrated on 5th November here in the UK. As a child, I loved waving a sparkler or munching a toffee apple whilst trying to stand as close to the bonfire (complete with a burning effigy at the centre) as possible without overheating! It felt like my entire home town coming out to stand in a muddy field to watch the fireworks without really having any understanding of why or what we were celebrating. 

Eh? So why do you celebrate Guy Fawkes Night?
At my Catholic primary school I was taught that Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated because a man called… you guessed it, Guy Fawkes, attempted to blow up the houses of Parliament with King James I inside. At this point, the King wanted to oppress Catholicism, something that Fawkes didn’t agree with. Even as a young child, these seemed like strange reasons to celebrate. Nevertheless this did not spoil my fun in any way and I still love bonfire night to this day.

Sounds controversial… 
I think everyone has forgotten the history and just enjoys the fireworks! Although there seems to be less of an emphasis on celebrating Guy Fawkes; people focus much more on ‘Bonfire Night’.

So is the way you celebrate Guy Fawkes Night changing? 
Maybe, I think the way we celebrate and importance we attach to Bonfire Night is changing a little. There are fewer bonfires and fewer people are having their own bonfire parties, as people are more worried about safety. 

I think that something else is changing too: the rise of Halloween. Despite its roots here in Scotland (and Ireland too) in the form of Samhuinn, the Celtic new year, Halloween is widely perceived to be an American phenomenon, swept in from across the Atlantic bringing American culture traditions along with it. Originally the preserve of young, trick or treaters would knock on doors, with the threat of a trick pressuring people in giving them a treat usually in the form of sweets. But this is spreading from university students and adults looking to have fun. 

But why the change? 
Maybe it’s just that Halloween has become more commercial. Or that the celebrations are so close together that they’re becoming merged. It might even be a reflection of our own society; the UK is increasingly multicultural and Halloween is something more inclusive, something that everyone can understand. 

Despite this, I miss “traditional” Guy Fawkes Night; the bonfires, the toffee apples and the fireworks. Let’s not merge the two celebrations, they both have an equal place – and it’s always better to have two celebrations than one!


Image credit: Extract from "Guy Fawkes wax model buring on the bonfire at the Billericay Fireworks Spectacular in Lake Meadows Park, Billericay, Essex" by William Warby on Flickr. CC BY 2.0