Remember, remember, the fifth of November. Gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.
Today is Guy Fawkes Day, a tradition marked with parties, bonfires, and fireworks for hundreds of years in Britain, a celebration to mark King James's survival of an assassination attempt. Guy Fawkes was a member of a group of revolutionaries who plotted to blow up the House of Lords. The "Gunpowder Conspiracy" was uncovered on 5 November 1605, and many members of the group were captured. A confession was tortured out of Fawkes. After he'd staggered to the top of the tall scaffold where he was to be hanged (step 1 in the "hang, draw, quarter" sequence), he threw himself off it and broke his neck.
Guy Fawkes Day was celebrated in America early during the colonial period. The fête had fallen out of fashion by the time of the American Revolution, another tie to cut while severing bonds with Britain. (In my third book, Camp Follower, the loyalist main character, Helen, laments to her friend, "I've noticed they don't much celebrate the old ways here. It's even difficult to find a decent bonfire for Guy Fawkes.") Thus my first exposure to Guy Fawkes Day came in 1982, when I was living in Britain. The enthusiastic responses of Brits to the festival, like their responses to football (soccer) games, made me speculate that in the British Isles, I might not have to look far beneath the stiff, upper lip to find a tribal human from thousands of years ago.
The next time I was exposed to Guy Fawkes Day was a little over a decade ago, when I participated with my school-age sons as British camp followers for the annual reenactment of the Battle of Camden. After dark, the Crown forces reenactors played at mob mentality while parading a fireworks-filled effigy of Guy Fawkes ("the Guy") to a bonfire. My sons were both frightened and fascinated by the spectacle. As they grew older, and we attended more Guy Fawkes celebrations at the annual reenactment, they grew to love the festival almost as much as the Fourth of July, which is what it resembles to us Yanks.
Many expatriate Brits in America hold their own Guy Fawkes celebrations. One told me the story of having a celebration about fifteen years ago interrupted by the arrival of the police. A neighbor, witnessing the effigy and bonfire, had called 911 to report human sacrifice in progress.These days, Guy Fawkes is making a comeback here in America. In Raleigh, North Carolina, "bands and bonfires" mark a fiery, official Guy Fawkes night downtown. I'm glad to see the festival reappear. It provides a good history reminder. And it's an introduction to a season of lights that hearkens back to the wonder of early humans, who rejoiced at the return of the sun after the winter solstice.
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