November 5th, Bonfire Night!
Being English, I really miss November 5th which in England is Guy Fawkes Night (known also as Bonfire Night) a favorite celebration for adults and children. All over the British Isles, you will see bonfires alight in neighborhoods; firework displays and ‘guys’ atop the bonfire pile. It celebrates the failure of the Gunpowder Plot on 5th November 1605 when a number of Roman Catholic conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London.
They got hold of 36 barrels of gunpowder and stored them in a cellar, just under the House of Lords. But as they worked on the plot, they realized that innocent people could be killed. One of them sent an anonymous letter warning his friend, Lord Monteagle, to stay away from Parliament on November 5th. The letter reached the King who stopped the plot. In the early hours of November 5th, Guy Fawkes was caught in the cellar under parliament with the 36 barrels of gunpowder. He was tortured and executed.
When I was young, we lived opposite a large, empty field which was great for a huge bonfire My brother and I would go out looking for old bits of wood, trees limbs, branches even chairs left for the rubbish, old boxes; anything that would burn. We would build up a huge pile ready for burning during the weeks leading up to November 5th. We were lucky because several families came to our bonfire so we always had a huge fire with lots of spare burning material. We sat around the outside of the fire on old park benches.
The moms would make toffee apples, hot dogs, burgers, soups and all kinds of hot beverages. In England, it is very cold in November and gets dark around 4.30pm. The bonfires create a lovely bright warm light and there are always children with ‘sparklers’ in their hands and bright luminous necklaces. About a week before the 5th, we would start to make the ‘guy’. The guy is supposed to represent Guy Fawkes.
We would use a pair of old trousers and stuffed them with straw or old newspapers. We then tied the bottom and top of the trousers with string. We did the same with an old sweater and tied the body to the legs and made arms and a round head, stuffed it and drew a face on it. The hair was made of straw. Sometimes we would add an old cap. Then, as is traditional in England, we would put our ‘guy’ into a wheelbarrow or old pram and go door to door showing the guy to the neighbors for the odd penny or two.
(This money was to help buy the fireworks). Some children would make fantastic guys and take their guy into town where they would get much more money for fireworks. Usually, the dads worked on the firework display.
Once the bonfire pile was high enough, the Guy is perched on top. Everyone sits around for the grand ceremony of lighting the fire. Within minutes the fire would be crackling and the flames leaping up around the guy. I loved the warmth, and the smell of musty firewood, the smoke mixed with the cold night air and the gunpowder smell of burned out fireworks.
As the fire began to die down, we'd have the firework display. We'd all gasp at the beautiful colors spraying the night sky with bright white, reds and blues, like a million tiny stars dropping to earth. The ‘bangers’ would make us all jump and the Catherine wheels would splutter color as they whizzed around.
Yep, I still miss Bonfire Night!