Friday, November 5, 2010

Three-score barrels of powder below / To prove old England's overthrow - trad.

The 5th of November meant little to me until 2001, when my flatmates in Prague insisted upon lighting fireworks throughout the night. Somehow, Bonfire Night skipped the curriculum of my European History courses. Though I'm not sure why, as it's a big deal here. I'm still a bit confused as to what exactly they're celebrating; all I had to learn for my visa exam was: What do we celebrate on November 5? Guy Fawkes Night. That explains it.

Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night, commemorates the failed Gunpowder Plot, an attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. (Yes, I realize this celebration is older than my country. Let's move on.) King James I wasn't tolerant of Catholics, so 13 Catholic men, including Fawkes, began plotting to blow up Parliament (and, thus, the King, prince, and politicians). They hid 36 barrels of gunpowder in a dingy cellar below the Parliament building, which were guarded by Fawkes. A traitor alerted the government, Fawkes was busted, and Parliament still stands. Though apparently every year, before the Queen enters Parliament to officially open it, the Yeoman of the Guard still search the cellars around the Palace of Westminster. And that's the only time the Queen visits.

So since then, bonfires have burned bright on November 5. Fireworks are set off as well, and often effigies of Guy Fawkes, the Pope, or unpopular politicians are placed on top of the fire. I've heard pops of fireworks since 8 this morning, and on my run today, wood was piled up two stories tall for tonight's Inverness blaze.

But it's still unclear exactly what Brits are celebrating on November 5. Is it the safety of the King? A foiled plot to blow up the center of politics in Britain? The gumption of a group of persecuted people? The attempt to do away with the King and government? Was Guy a hero, a martyr, or a terrorist?

1 comment:

Erik R. said...

I've always wondered that too.

I suspect that if you polled them, most Brits would say that they had no idea and that it was just a night to play with dangerous pyrotechnics.

Just like most Americans have no idea WTF Halloween is supposed to be celebrating.