Bonfire Night is a big date in the UK cultural calendar. The Fifth of November this year falling on a Saturday, almost all the firework displays round here are happening tonight.
Whilst a big part of me is appalled that so much money quite literally goes up in smoke on Bonfire Night, still it’s an altogether much happier event than the worrying growth of Halloween and its associated commercialism. Except, of course, that the event it commemorates – the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 – was hardly a happy event for those involved. So why on earth do we continue to commemorate it? Maybe we’re really no longer remembering anything, but just taking the opportunity to enjoy bonfires, fireworks and funfairs at a time of year that is otherwise dark and chilly.
As a child, my recollection is that fireworks were only ever let off on 5th November. Nowadays there are fireworks after music concerts and at birthday parties, not to mention New Year’s Eve. Bonfire Night brings back memories of, unsurprisingly, a bonfire of garden prunings in the back garden, needing to keep the cat indoors, and retreating inside for bangers and mash. Local lads (mostly lads, I think) would position themselves with their homemade ‘guy’ outside the local shops, to ask for “a penny for the guy”, or would sometimes wheel it from house to house in a wheelbarrow. Presumably this was to fund fireworks.
I don’t remember ever going to a an organised firework display as a child, but you could buy fireworks singly at the newsagents for a small backgarden display. There was the ‘Witch’s Cauldron’, a conical shaped firework, and the ‘Roman Candle’. Occasionally we had a rocket, which was placed in a milkbottle prior to lighting. My favourite firework was the ‘Catherine Wheel’, which Dad would nail onto the wooden rose arch. The trick was to nail it securely enough that it didn’t fly off, but loosely enough that it actually span round and round once lit. Often it didn’t, but it was lovely to watch when it worked. And then there were the sparklers – always packets of sparklers – and we would have fun trying to write our names in the darkness, as my own children subsequently enjoyed doing.
In 1605 Roman Catholics wanted freedom to practise their religion after years of persecution. Thankfully today we enjoy religious freedom in this country – a blessing not everyone in this world shares – so maybe if we should be remembering anything this Bonfire Night, it should be the fact that some in this world are still persecuted because of their faith.
“Remember, remember, the fifth of November” – enjoy your Bonfire Night!