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3.11.2015
wtorek

A Uniquely British Occasion: Bonfire Night

3 listopada 2015, wtorek,

Remember Remember the fifth of November

Ask people in different countries about fireworks and you’ll get different answers. Here in Poland, most people associate fireworks with the New Year celebrations. In the United States, they’re most often seen (and heard) on 4 July during Independence Day. In Britain, however, you’re likely to see them this week, for 5 November is Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night or Firework Night. In this post, I’ll share the history and celebrations. I’ll also include some useful vocabulary for you to remember.

How did it all start?

Back in 1605, a group of people including Guy Fawkes had a plot to destroy the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder. The plotters were Catholic, and the reigning monarch, King James I, was Protestant. King James was the first monarch to rule both England and Scotland. James ascended to the throne in England because Queen Elizabeth I died without having any children.

The gunpowder plot, Image credit: bbc.co.uk

The gunpowder plot, Image credit: bbc.co.uk

On 5 November, Fawkes was found in the cellars underneath the House of Lords, guarding the explosives which were meant to blow up Parliament. He was arrested and later executed along with the other plotters. To celebrate the plot being foiled, people lit bonfires all over London. The following year, a law was passed making 5 November an annual day of thanksgiving.

How is it celebrated today?

Penny for the Guy; Image credit: telegraph.co.uk

Penny for the Guy; Image credit: telegraph.co.uk

Four centuries ago, 5 November was known as Gunpowder Treason day, and had very strong pro-Protestant and anti-Catholic sentiments. Today, the religious element does not exist. Instead, people just light bonfires and watch public firework displays. An effigy of Guy Fawkes is placed on the bonfire. In the past, children used to go around towns during the day with the effigy, asking for a “penny for the Guy”. In 2015, a penny is unlikely to buy very much!

Personal recollections

As a child, my family used to have firework displays in our garden, or I would go to a public display. We could hold sparklers, which were a lot of fun because you could “write” things with them using the bright light at the end. Sadly, displays are less common nowadays because of the increase in health and safety regulations. Every year, people are seriously injured (e.g. by burns) because of misuse of fireworks, despite advertising campaigns warning of the dangers.

Sparklers on 5 November; Image credit: theguardian.com

Sparklers on 5 November; Image credit: theguardian.com

Guy Fawkes night under threat?

Because Guy Fawkes night comes so soon after Halloween, it is often given much less attention. This is because Halloween, an American holiday, has grown in popularity over the last twenty years. It would be a pity if a more traditional British celebration like Guy Fawkes Night were to fade away as a result of 21st-century commercialisation and over-regulation.

A rhyme to remember

Finally, here is the short version of a rhyme which children used to learn at school:

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; Image credit: dailymail.co.uk

Remember Remember the fifth of November; Image credit: dailymail.co.uk

Vocabulary

plot (n or v): a plan/ to plan to do something bad

gunpowder: an early form of explosive

foiled: when a plan is stopped before it is carried out

treason: a crime against your country, usually punished by death

effigy: a doll made to look like someone famous, which is often burned

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