Opinion: Why Do We Really Celebrate Guy Fawkes Night?

Fireworks1

Fireworks are used to represent the explosives that were never used on the 5th of November, 1605.

 

As a Canadian living in Edinburgh, I’ve found that there are so many traditions and customs in the United Kingdom that I did not grow up with – even as a member of the Commonwealth. And after a weekend of being kept awake late into the night with the sound of fireworks, I decided that I needed to figure out what all the fuss was about when it comes to Bonfire Night.

My knowledge of Guy Fawkes comes primarily from a very foggy memory of V for Vendetta, but a Google search reveals that the night celebrates the failed assassination attempt of King James I in 1605. The Gunpowder Plot aimed to restore Catholicism to England, with Guy Fawkes playing a very minor role in the production.

In recent years however, Guy Fawkes night has become an excuse to let off some fireworks, light bonfires and even enjoy a few cocktails at 5th of November themed club nights.

Though it seems like an excuse to party, 23-year-old Ewan Morgan believes that the day has not lost its meaning for everyone.

“There are still some politics in it for some people. Sometimes there would be a Guy Fawkes effigy on top of the bonfire,” he says. “And attending a Catholic school, it was made quite clear that we should not be celebrating.”

However Morgan sees the tradition in a different light, “It’s basically our equivalent of July the 4th or Canada Day. It’s an excuse for celebration and to watch fireworks with local people – just good food and drink to keep you tiding over until Christmas.”

GuyFawkesMap

The United Kingdom, Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand are said to celebrate Guy Fawkes night.

Aside from the United Kingdom, Guy Fawkes night is allegedly celebrated in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, but the tradition has slowly filtered away throughout the years.

Mark Allen, a sheep farmer, was born and raised in Collieston but has been celebrating Guy Fawkes night for the past 17 years since his move to Amherst Island in Ontario, Canada.

Although most Canadians do not participate in the tradition, Allen believes that Guy Fawkes night is once again gaining popularity.

“Our family celebrates along with many of our friends, and the numbers grow each year. We have had to limit the numbers to ‘invite only’ to keep our numbers fitting in our farmhouse,” he says. “I feel like I don’t miss out on anything from back home because of how successful we’ve been able to make the night here.”

Like Morgan, Allen believes in the social side of Guy Fawkes night instead of the political.

“It’s a night to celebrate, have fun, enjoy a roaring fire and some great fireworks, all with family, friends and neighbours. It helps to build community,” says Allen.

Though for many the original meaning of the night has been replaced, its continued popularity lies in its ability to bring family and friends together just as the weather begins to get bleak.

Although I didn’t fully prepare for the elements on my first ever Guy Fawkes night, the view from Calton Hill made it worth it. Fireworks brightened the sky from all sides as the crowd lit sparklers and huddled for warmth. As a Canadian, its original meaning was lost on me, but I can’t help to agree that evolution of the night has only improved its message.

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