Monday, 1 November 2010

Halloween puts the hex on Guy Fawkes Night

Guy Fawkes Night is one British tradition I am quite happy to see die a little every year. In many places where there is a celebration this Friday (Remember, remember the fifth of November/Gunpowder, treason, and plot), it will be called Bonfire or Fireworks Night. And quite right too. The burning of effigies is made none the more wholesome accompanied by jacket potatoes.
I don’t want to overstate the point. It’s more than 400 years since Catholic Fawkes and his fellow-conspirators failed to blow up King James I in support of their mistreated coreligionists - and has long since lost its historical significance.
I don’t recall there being any religious connotations with Guy Fawkes Night when I was a child 60 years ago. Rather it was a cottage industry. Many London street corners around November-time had bunches of children displaying an effigy of Guy Fawkes constructed with varying degrees of skill.
They would accost passersby with the cry, “Penny for the Guy.” I doubt much of the proceeds was used to purchase bangers and rockets.
Banning the sale of fireworks to children undermined the custom. The whole practice of individuals or family groups setting off fireworks – as opposed to watching organised displays – became less popular with the growing concern about firework accidents.
Still I hope I never lose my delight at a really good firework performance at any time of the year.
The growing attraction Halloween went a long way to dilute the status of Guy Fawkes Night in England, where it had lagged behind the other home countries in popularity. Not any more; the celebration was much in evidence last night.
We seem to have adopted wholesale the American ritual – pumpkins, trick-or-treating, ghoulish costumes etc – in recognising a date which owes its origin to a pagan festival of the dead.
But Halloween is too deeply ingrained in the secular – and the commercial – to be of serious concern. Yet the willingness of children and often their parents to assume the guise of monsters and occult characters doesn’t bear too close an inspection.

1 comment:

  1. OK GC. Don't forget DIWALI, says Jaffa.


What do you think? GC