Monday, 1 November 2010

Is Bonfire Night older than Guy Fawkes?

This time of the year is rife with traditional festivals descended from pre-christian beliefs. It's the time when the harvest ends and stocking up for winter begins, kicking off with Halloween, which was last night.

Here in Britain we celebrate Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes night, on the 5th of November. Most people from over here know the ryhme:

'Remember remember the fifth of November,
gunpowder, treason and plot,
I see no reason why gunpowder treason,
should ever be forgot'

Of course, this festival commemorates Guy Fawkes (real name: Guido) who plotted to blow up parliament in 1605, along with King James I. However, the King caught wind of the conspiracy and sent the guards to the cellars under the Houses of Parliament, where Fawkes was caught red-handed with dozens of barrels full of gunpowder. Fawkes and his co-conspirators were executed for treason. It has become tradition that we celebrate this event with fireworks and bonfires, in which we burn effigies of Fawkes.

However, according to some theories, Bonfire Night could stretch back to Celtic times, when the festival of Samhain was observed, as it was commonplace to have bonfires and throw on effigies of the Green Man, possibly symbolising the death of nature due to the cold. Is has also been recorded that people threw belongings onto the fires. The modern Bonfire Night may be an amalgamation of the two festivals. But to me, it's a great excuse for a jacket potato, a toffie apple and some awesome fireworks.