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Guy Fawkes Night is an annual celebration on the evening of 5 November. It marks the downfall of the Gunpowder Plot of 5 November 1605, in which a number of Catholic conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, attempted to destroy the Houses of Parliamentmarker, in Londonmarker, capital of Englandmarker.

It is primarily marked in the United Kingdommarker where, by an Act of Parliament called the Thanksgiving Act, it was compulsory until 1859, to celebrate the deliverance of the King of England, Scotland, and Ireland; but it is also celebrated in former British colonies including New Zealandmarker, Newfoundlandmarker, South Africa, and parts of the Caribbeanmarker. Bonfire Night was celebrated in Australia until the mid- to late 1970s, when sale and public use of fireworks was made illegal and the celebration was effectively abolished. It is also celebrated in the British Overseas Territory of Bermudamarker. Festivities are centred on the use of fireworks and the lighting of bonfires.

United Kingdom customs

Children display their guy on the street to raise funds for fireworks
In the United Kingdom, celebrations take place in towns and villages across the country in the form of both private and civic events. They involve fireworks displays and the building of bonfires on which traditionally "guys" are burnt, although this practice is not always observed in modern times. These "guys" are traditionally effigies of Guy Fawkes, the most famous of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators. Although the night is celebrated in Yorkmarker (Fawkes' hometown) some there do not burn his effigy, most notably those from his old schoolmarker. In the past, before the fifth, children traditionally used the "guys" to request a "penny for the guy" in order to raise funds with which to buy fireworks. However, this practice has diminished greatly, perhaps because it has been seen as begging, and also because children are not allowed to buy fireworks. In addition there are concerns that children might misuse the money.

In the United Kingdom, there are several foods that are traditionally consumed on Guy Fawkes Night:

In the Black Countrymarker, it is a traditional day for eating groaty pudding.

In West Yorkshire the practice of chumping is carried out by children in the days and weeks before bonfire night. This is the collection of wood and other combustible materials to make community bonfires.

A Guy Fawkes Night firework display
In Sussex, it is a major festival that centres on Lewesmarker necessitating the closure of the town centre. The night also commemorates the Glorious Revolution and 17 local Protestant martyrs that were burnt at the stake during Marian Persecutions by the Catholic Queen Mary I. The night begins with torchlight processions in costume by a number of local bonfire societies and culminates in six separate bonfires where effigies of Guy Fawkes, Pope Paul V and topical personalities are destroyed by firework and flame. The burning of an effigy of Pope Paul V is carried out by the Cliffe Bonfire Society alone and they are barred from marching with the main procession.

In Ottery St Marymarker, in Devon, burning barrels of tar are carried through the streets:
"Ottery St. Mary is internationally renowned for its tar barrels, an old custom said to have originated in the 17th century, and which is held on November 5th each year. Each of Ottery's central public houses sponsors a single barrel. In the weeks prior to the day of the event, November 5th, the barrels are soaked with tar. The barrels are lit outside each of the pubs in turn and once the flames begin to pour out, they are hoisted up onto local people's backs and shoulders. The streets and alleys around the pubs are packed with people, all eager to feel the lick of the barrels flame. Seventeen Barrels all in all are lit over the course of the evening. In the afternoon and early evening there are women's and boy's barrels, but as the evening progresses the barrels get larger and by midnight they weigh at least 30 kilos. A great sense of camaraderie exists between the 'Barrel Rollers', despite the fact that they tussle constantly for supremacy of the barrel. In most cases, generations of the same family carry the barrels and take great pride in doing so. ... Opinion differs as to the origin of this festival of fire, but the most widely accepted version is that it began as a pagan ritual that cleanses the streets of evil spirits."


Guy Fawkes Night is less commonly celebrated in Northern Irelandmarker, where autumn fireworks and bonfires are more commonly associated with Halloween.

Global customs

North America

Bermuda

In the aftermath of the Boer War, Anna Maria Outerbridge — a leader of a "Boer Relief Committee" well known for trying to assist Boer POWs in escaping — was so unpopular with the British that on Guy Fawkes Night an effigy of her was burned, rather than of Guy Fawkes.

Canada

In Canadamarker, Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Night is largely unheard of in most provinces, although it is still celebrated in a few places. The tradition was planted along with other cultural practices of British colonists in the 19th century. However practices have been modified over two centuries since arriving from the United Kingdom as the following reveals:
"The night is also still celebrated in Nanaimo, British Columbiamarker. The custom was brought over by British coal miners that came to Nanaimo in the mid 1800s. They built very tall bonfires – often 40 feet (12 metres) or taller, sometimes from "spare" railroad ties that they'd come across. Over the years in Nanaimo, by the 1960s the effigy of Guy Fawkes had disappeared, and so had the name – it's just called "Bonfire Night" by the local children. Now (2006), the tradition has largely been lost altogether, and the few remaining celebrations that are held are mostly in private backyards."


Guy Fawkes bonfires are still burnt in many parts of the province of Newfoundland and Labradormarker. The celebrations are widespread enough to merit recent mention by the provincial Minister of Environment and Conservation:

Tom Osborne, Minister of Environment and Conservation, today asked the general public to keep safety and the environment in mind when holding bonfires this weekend to celebrate Guy Fawkes night.

“Holding bonfires on Guy Fawkes night is still a tradition in many areas of our province and we are asking those participating in a bonfire this year to ensure they clean up their area, especially our beaches, when the festivities are over,” said Minister Osborne. “We should always be mindful of the importance of our environment and do our part to keep it clean at all times, including events like Guy Fawkes night.”"


Caribbean

In the Caribbean nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadinesmarker, the night is celebrated in the town of Barroualliemarker, on the leeward side of the main island of Saint Vincentmarker. The town's field comes ablaze as people come to see all of the traditional pyrotechnics.

In Antigua and Barbudamarker, Guy Fawkes Night was popular until the 1990s, when a ban on fireworks made it almost non-existent.

In the Bahamasmarker, Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated in the Fox Hill area of New Providencemarker, the main island. Other islands have smaller celebrations for their residents.

Colonial America

This day was celebrated in the Colonies and was called "Pope's Day". It was the high point of "anti-popery" (in the term of the times) in New Englandmarker. In the 1730s or earlier Bostonmarker's artisans commemorated the day with a parade and performances which mocked Catholicism and the Catholic Stuart pretender. It was also the day when the youth and the lower class ruled. They went door to door collecting money from the affluent to finance feasting and drinking. George Washington forbade the celebration of the day among his troops due to its anti-Catholic and pro-British purpose.

Southern hemisphere

Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Night (and the weekend closest to it) is the main night for both amateur and official fireworks displays in the UK and New Zealandmarker.

In Australia, Guy Fawkes Night has not been celebrated since the late 1970s, when sale and public use of fireworks was banned in most states and territories to prevent their misuse and personal injuries, and especially because of the danger of bushfires during hot Novembers. Prior to this ban, Guy Fawkes Night in Australia was widely celebrated with many private, backyard fireworks lightings and larger communal bonfires and fireworks displays in public spaces. Some recent immigrants to Australia from Britain preserve the British tradition and arrange private parties with bonfires and sparklers.

A pyrotechnic fountain.


In New Zealand, the sale of fireworks has been increasingly reduced.This is predominantly due to misuse by young people.Firecrackers have been banned since 1991, and rockets (or any firework where the firework itself flies) have been banned since 1994. In 2007, the sale period for fireworks was reduced to the four days leading to Guy Fawkes Night, and the legal age to buy fireworks was raised from 14 to 18. Despite those sales restrictions, there is actually no restriction on when one may light fireworks, only a restriction on when they may be sold. There are some local bans on setting off fireworks, usually covering only the days around Guy Fawkes Night. Ex Prime Minister Helen Clark considered banning the sale of personal fireworks in New Zealand, although 2007 was one of the "quietest on record" according to the NZ fire service. However the major New Zealand cities now hold their own popular public firework displays on Guy Fawkes night.

South Africa

Guy Fawkes is widely celebrated in South Africa. However, the day has largely lost its meaning, and is seen more often as a reason to light fireworks. Bonfires with Fawkes effigies are not uncommon, although they are certainly not essential to Guy Fawkes celebrations in South Africa. Many schools and community centres stage fireworks displays that are used to raise money. Until government restrictions on the purchase of fireworks were introduced in the 1990s (primarily motivated by animal rights concerns), it was common for middle-class neighbourhoods to host quite elaborate informal fireworks displays. These have diminished of late, due to the necessity of obtaining a permit hold such events. Small, quiet fireworks (such as a "fountains" and "sparklers") are often lit at private home parties.

The government has allocated sections of public beaches to be used as sites for the firing of fireworks. These sites are usually plagued by pollution due to Guy Fawkes celebrations.

Guy Fawkes day was celebrated to some extent by South Africans of English descent, but the practice began dwindling by the 1960s. Personal fireworks were banned by the Apartheid-era government, which feared that fireworks could be converted into improvised explosive devices during periods of civil unrest. This development may have contributed to the decline of celebrations. However, South Africa's expulsion from the Commonwealth and distancing from Britain in the 1960s is another likely factor.

Traditional rhymes

Several traditional rhymes have accompanied the festivities. Sometimes 'God Save the king' can be replaced by 'God save the Queen' depending on who is on the throne.
:Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
:The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
:I see no reason
:Why the Gunpowder Treason
:Should ever be forgot.
:Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
:To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
:Three-score barrels of powder below
:To prove old England's overthrow;
:By God's providence he was catch'd (or by God's mercy*)
:With a dark lantern and burning match.
:Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring. (Holla*)
:Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
:And what should we do with him? Burn him!


these words are used in by Battle Bonfire Boyes who carry on the tradition of bonfire at their annual event in Sussex. They have the honour of the longest continuous Guy Fawkes bonfire celebrations in the world.The above traditional 'bonfire cry' is used at the society meeting immediately preceding the annual event, and prior to the lighting of the bonfire, and on other significant occasions.

In more common use the above 'bonfire cry' is occasionally altered with the last three lines (after "burning match") being supplanted by the following;

:A traitor to the Crown by his action,
:No Parli'ment mercy from any faction,
:His just end should'st be grim,
:What should we do? Burn him!
:Holler boys, holler boys, let the bells ring,
:Holler boys, holler boys, God save the King!


Since the town of Lewes doesn't just focus on Guy Fawkes they add an extra verse to do with the Pope, reflecting the struggle between Protestants and Roman Catholics. This practice is unique to the Lewes Bonfire celebrations.

:A penny loaf to feed the Pope
:A farthing o' cheese to choke him.
:A pint of beer to rinse it down.
:A fagot of sticks to burn him.
:Burn him in a tub of tar.
:Burn him like a blazing star.
:Burn his body from his head.
:Then we'll say ol' Pope is dead.
:Hip hip hoorah!
:Hip hip hoorah hoorah!


A variant on the foregoing:

:Remember, remember the fifth of November
:Gunpowder, treason and plot.
:I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
:Should ever be forgot.


:Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
:Gunpowder, treason and plot!
:A stick or a stake for King James' sake
:Will you please to give us a fagot
:If you can't give us one, we'll take two;
:The better for us and the worse for you!


Another piece of popular doggerel:

:Guy, guy, guy
:Poke him in the eye,
:Put him on the bonfire,
:And there let him die.


Or, today used frequently,instead of "Put him on the bonfire","Hang him on a lamppost".

...and another variant, sung by children in Lancashire whilst begging "A Penny For The Guy":
Remember, remember the fifth of November
It's Gunpowder Plot, we never forgot
Put your hand in your pocket and pull out your purse
A ha'penny or a penny will do you no harm
Who's that knocking at the window?
Who's that knocking at the door?
It's little Mary Ann with a candle in her hand
And she's going down the cellar for some coal


This is a South Lancashire song sung when knocking at doors asking for money to buy fireworks, or combustibles for a bonfire (known as "Cob-coaling"), there are many variations, this is a shorter one:
We come a Cob-coaling for Bonfire time,
Your coal and your money we hope to enjoy.
Fal-a-dee, fal-a-die, fal-a-diddly-i-do-day.
If you don't have a penny a ha'penny will do.
If you don't have a ha'penny, then God bless you.
The custom seems to have died out in the 1980s–1990s with the rise of the American import of "Trick-or-treating."

See also



Footnotes

  1. Kerre Woodham Guy Fawkes Night: Gone with a bang, The New Zealand Herald, 11 November 2007
  2. Bolton Revisited : Remember Remember the Fifth of November Retrieved 5 November 2009
  3. Ottery St Mary Tar Barrels
  4. Nash, pg. 165
  5. George Washington, November 5, 1775, General Orders The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor
  6. Auckland City fireworks bans.


References

  • Nash, Gary, The Urban Crucible, The Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution, 1986, ISBN 0674930584




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