One of the things I love most about living abroad is learning about all the steeped traditions and local customs that make up the culture, people and country. Starting last night, we are heading into a weekend of bonfires and firework parties across the country to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night.
It always creeps up on me (after more than 7 years here, you’d think I’d remember) and I was making dinner when the booming outside thundered like tanks and rockets, and the cats came flying through the cat door in a panic with hair raised. It lasted — i kid you not — for a good 25 minutes. Here’s a snippet of what got them going (from the top floor of our house):
It’s crazy! This is just the average local Guy Fawkes celebration in my suburb of West London, but there are hundreds that take place all over the country. If we had looked out the front windows we would have seen two more in Kew and Richmond. They are everywhere. As are the bonfires. Driving through Yorkshire about 5 years ago on Bonfire Night (another term for Guy Fawkes Night), we looked out over the rolling hills and counted 6 enormous bonfires about 3 stories high all across the landscape. It really is a sight to see.
These local celebrations will go on every night through Sunday (the actual Guy Fawkes Day is November 5th) and here is a partial listing of free, excellent fireworks displays in/around London, although I’m sure there are many more.
And what is Bonfire Night? It is a celebration of the thwarting of Guy Fawkes treasonous plot on November 5th, 1605, to blow up the King and Parliament. That night, Guy (a member of the Gunpowder Plot), was arrested in the basement beneath the House of Lords while guarding an enormous pile of explosives the plotters were planning to set off. In celebration of the fact that King James I actually lived (did not get blown up), people lit bonfires around London and months later introduced an Act to observe this annually in a public day of thanksgiving. So, sorta like July 4th and Thanksgiving combined (as they don’t have either here. Although some joke that if Brexit goes through, that will be our new “Independence Day” with probably a far less celebratory mood as we break away from Europe). Here’s an excellent explanation, should you want more. Fun tidbit: Did you know his name was also Guido? Would have had a slightly different ring to it, eh? Guido Fawkes Day? 🙂
By George Cruikshank – Ainsworth, William Harrison. Guy Fawkes, or The Gunpowder Treason. 1840., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10479566.