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06 November 2011

Remember, Remember the 5th of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot!

Given that I've just sort of celebrated Halloween here I decided I would share with you an event that happens in the UK just a few days after on the 5 November - Bonfire Night.

For any one who does not know Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated in the UK every 5 November and is a celebration of the failed attempt by Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament on the 5 November 1605.  Guy Fawkes and his gang were Catholics and the Gunpowder Plot was their plan to assassinate the Protestant King, James I.  They wanted to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill the King in the hope that it would initiate a great uprising of English Catholics who were, at the time, coming under increasingly severe penal laws regarding the practice of their religion.  

As a result of Guy and his co-conspirators being caught however and therefore prevented from carrying out their plans, many people lit bonfires around London to celebrate.  Shortly afterwards the introduction of the Observance of 5th November Act (basically calling for a public, annual thanksgiving for the failure of the plot) was the beginnings of what we still celebrate today.

The way in which Guy Fawkes night is celebrated nowadays has changed a lot from its original origins which, of course, had a fairly anti-Catholic focus to them.  Today it is largely celebrated with bonfires usually with an effigy of Guy Fawkes on the top and fireworks displays.  Many of these displays are now organised events for the public to attend and enjoy.  Usually you'll be able to get baked potatoes and cups of soup to keep you warm whilst you watch and hopefully you'll be able to enjoy the display on a crisp, cold November night rather than a wet one.  I remember as a child as well that children would often make a 'Guy' out of old clothes and whatever they could find to stuff the body with and then go calling house to house with the 'Guy' or in the street basically begging for a 'penny for the Guy'.  However that particular part of the celebrations seems to have disappeared, or at least certainly where I used to live it now has.

Some towns really go to town with their displays and are well known for doing so each year.  I studied for my degree in the historic city of Winchester and I remember their display, at least whilst I lived there was pretty good.  With a torch-lit procession through the city which everyone could join in with, ending up at the field where the display of fireworks was.  The display I used to go to before that in my home village did not have a procession but the fireworks were equally as good fun to watch.   

The night sky on and around the 5 November is always alight with fireworks going off somewhere so even if you don't attend an organised event you'll be bound to be able to enjoy somebody else's display from the warmth of your house.  It is great fun to watch and there are many 'oohs' and 'aahhs' all around as people look up to the skies to watch the show.


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