Most national holidays, logically, are celebrations of something being accomplished. Few and far between are ones that commemorate a failed attempt at something. Guy Fawkes’ Night or Bonfire Night, observed every 5th of November in Great Britain, is a notable exception.
The Gunpowder Plotters. Image courtesy of Creative Commons
Remember, remember the 5th of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and Parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove Old England’s overthrow.
By God’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.
And what shall we do with him?
Old English nursery rhyme
On this date in 1605 Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot,
was arrested for the attempted assassination of King James the 1st, through blowing up the Houses of Parliament.
He was caught red-handed standing guard
by a significant amount of explosives, three score barrels worth is the amount given in the nursery rhyme, or 60 as we'd say today. All around London,
the people lit bonfires in celebration. Some months later the 5th of November was introduced as an annual public
day of thanksgiving to commemorate the plot’s failure.
The components of fire and gunpowder are vital to the celebrations even today, and Guy Fawkes' Night is still celebrated with bonfires and fireworks
displays, but the exact mode of celebration varies from region to region. In Bristol, the day is marked every year through an elaborate programme of
events. Our students at the OISE Bristol School were very curious to go and explore.
"A great many families and students were gathered on an expansive field just outside the town centre, where the festivities were to be held. Stalls
selling all manner of foods abounded, as were ones providing
a variety of glow-in-the-dark oddities. The atmosphere was thick with expectation for all these revellers braving the cold.
Students at OISE Bristol partaking in the festivities
Out of the darkness emerged a troupe of drummers beating out an energetic rhythm in their approach to the crowd. Following in their steps, and to the beat,
the throng was led across the moonlit fields. Soon a group
of children joined in, porting vividly coloured lanterns, brightly lit and visible at a great distance. As they came nearer, it became apparent that
the glowing props they were holding up so proudly were all hand
made by the youngsters themselves.
The green-lit flow of exhilarated children moved up the hill in dancing serpentine movements creating an unforgettable effect against the vast darkness of the surrounding grounds. As they disappeared
into the night jugglers appeared, controlling objects seemingly made from fire in a series of incredibly complex movements.
Finally, the fireworks broke out. With the sky ablaze, we
were completely immersed in light and colour. An unforgettable evening; our greatest struggle was having to choose between being fully absorbed in
the fireworks or taking photos to remember it by.