I’ve read about the tradition on 5th November on the bonfirenight website. It’s very interesting.
Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603 and the Catholics hoped her successor will be more tolerant of their religion. He wasn’t, so 13 men tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament, hoping they will kill the King and the Prince of Wales.
The 13 men stored 36 barrels of gunpowder in a cellar, under the House of Lords. It became clear that innocent people would be hurt and some of them had second thoughts. One of them warned one of his friends to stay away that night.
The warning letter reached the King. His forces captured Guy Fawkes, who was tortured and executed.
The Gunpowder Plot struck a very profound chord for the people of England. The reigning monarch only enters the Parliament once a year, on what is called “the State Opening of Parliament”. Prior to the Opening, and according to custom, the Yeomen of the Guard search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster. Nowadays, the Queen and Parliament still observe this tradition.
Bonfires were set on that night to celebrate the safety of the King. Since then, November 5th has become known as Bonfire Night. So, the tradition of bonfires started in 1605 when people lit bonfires to celebrate the fact that the King was saved.
The event is commemorated every year with fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire. As years progressed, however, the ritual became more elaborate. Fireworks were added to the celebrations.
Still today, some communities throw dummies of both Guy Fawkes and the Pope on the bonfire (and even those of a contemporary politician or two), although the gesture is seen by most as a quirky tradition, rather than an expression of hostility towards the Pope.
Preparations for Bonfire Night celebrations include making a dummy of Guy Fawkes, which is called “the Guy”. Some children even keep up an old tradition of walking in the streets, carrying “the Guy” they have just made, and beg passersby for “a penny for the Guy.” The kids use the money to buy fireworks for the evening festivities. On the night itself, Guy is placed on top of the bonfire, which is then set alight; and fireworks displays fill the sky.
We saw some dummies made by children, but then we had no idea what was their purpose. Next year I’ll know what to tell the children. Sorry, no pictures of the dummies.
Bonfire Night is not only celebrated in Britain. The tradition crossed the oceans and established itself in the British colonies during the centuries. It was actively celebrated in New England as “Pope Day” as late as the 18th century. Today, November 5th bonfires still light up in far out places like New Zealand and Newfoundland in Canada.
Some pictures of today’s fireworks in Sefton Park, Liverpool. Lovely display and amazing crowd, as always.