Thursday, November 5, 2009

Remember, Remember

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allKallan in a cellarRemember, remember,
The 5th of November,
The gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Tonight is Guy Fawkes Night in New Zealand – and it will be Guy Fawkes Night in several countries on this day – potentially a fun night for most children and adults.

The history of its origin has been well documented.

The scene is a cellar, directly underneath the House of Lords (Parliament) London, early in the morning of 5 November, 1605.

In a few hours, King James VI/I, the British Parliament and many dignitaries will be in attendance for the opening of Parliament. Having learnt of a rumour of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament, the King has ordered a check of the cellars to be executed this morning.

Guy (Guido) Fawkes is quietly leaving the cellar, having just completed his undertakings and last minute checks on dozens of barrels of gunpowder, laid all set to explode in a couple of hours. Fawkes is apprehended by the guards and the stockpile of gunpowder is discovered.

Further investigations reveal that Fawkes and several of his accomplices had attempted to destroy Parliament in what is now known as the Gunpowder Plot.

The outcome of the trial that ensued in January the following year brought Fawkes and his cohorts to the gallows. The King ordered that the event be celebrated by burning fires all over the kingdom.

And so a tradition began for a customary annual celebration.

What intrigues me is the fierce adherence to the Guy Fawkes tradition in New Zealand, a country that is now colonised by many nationalities. What is more intriguing is that a significant portion of people who celebrate ‘Guy Fawkes’ in that country have no knowledge of the origin of this almost pagan custom. Many simply refer to the celebration as Fireworks Night.

What is even more astonishing is that it’s nearly summer in New Zealand at this time of the year. Skyrockets and exploding firecrackers (or bangers) are already banned as they are a fire hazard. It’s not uncommon for dwellings (predominantly of wooden construction in NZ) to be burnt to the ground or large areas of bush and scrub to be razed over the ‘fireworks’ season. In its country of origin, Britain, the tradition takes place during winter when there is a low fire risk.

Legislation already restricts the sale of fireworks to a brief period in November. There have been several moves in recent years to ban the sale of fireworks for use at private celebrations in favour of public municipal firework displays.

My family watch the city display from our living room window. The whole sky is lit with pyrotechnics over a period of half an hour.

Interesting isn’t it, that the fun aspect of a bygone, almost forgotten celebration should so fiercely dictate how people choose to conduct themselves? For me, a shift to a suitable mid-winter date seems obvious as a first move towards safer fun for all.

Enjoy the fireworks!

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later


Tony Ratcliffe said...

Born in England but in Canada for many years, I just discovered our celebration in Edmonton 2 years ago. This will be the third time I attend, about 22 hours from now. Looking forward to the baked potatoes and hot apple cider!

Here are my photos from last year:

Paul C said...

Thanks for introducing me to an interesting slice of history. What a pivotal moment, a man poised to blow up the Parliament buildings.

Its equal today is dreamed of by terrorists, but anathema to all people who value law, civility, and democracy. Worthy to be noted.

V Yonkers said...

I wonder if Guy Fawkes is considered an unofficial start to "summer", which is why it is celebrated still in NZ. We don't have anything like that (having just come off the sugar high of Halloween) in the US. As Paul said, I think we would have mass hysteria if people decided to start celebrating it now.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koutou katoa!

Kia ora e Tony!

Baked potatoes and hot apple cider! Now that sounds like a real winter night's meal. Thanks for the link to your photos! Wow! That's the way to do it!

So glad you dropped by Middle-earth.

Tēnā koe e Paul!

Yes, I suppose Fawkes would be one of the most famous terrorists in British history. Then there's the 12th/13th century Trojan Horse which could equally spawn the dreams of present day terrorists.

We don't want to put too many ideas in their heads.

Kia ora Virginia!

Ha ha ha! An interesting postulate. Frankly, I don't think so, as summer doesn't start (officially) in New Zealand until 1 December, and even then for most Kiwis the summer starts with the end-of-year holidays which are even later.

I've seen Christmas decorations in shops as early as October, would you believe, so the retailers are quick to cash in on any hint of a party-party-celebration, whatever the origin. We'll be having Easter eggs on sale just after Christmas next.

Catchya later