I have been thinking about the reasons why we celebrate Guy Fawkes’ Night since I posted last night*…
Perhaps we are celebrating because it was lucky in some way that no-one died on that night, so it’s a celebration for the freedom of people? (Except for the poor plotters, who received the death penalty two months later.) Or perhaps we don’t really know the real reasons, since the ways of marking the occasion, changed over the years?
Not much is known about how they celebrated in the early days, although it was apparently very anti-Catholic, with sermons preached by the church. In 1607, the city of Canterbury set off “106 pounds of gunpowder and 14 pounds of match, and three years later food and drink was provided for local dignitaries, as well as music, explosions and a parade by the local militia.”¹
After the Civil War, it was undecided on how Guy Fawkes’ Night should be marked. It wasn’t until the Restoration that it was turned into a firework festival in 1670. The burning of effigies continued, but the type diverted often targeting political or religious figures. Fireworks were banned 15 years later under James II. Why? It has not been said. They were reinstated when the King was thrown off the royal seat to celebrate freedom and religion² after William of Orange landed in England on exactly the same date.
However, over the years, and especially during the 19th century, fireworks kept getting banned, due to riots and violence; and the tradition of observation kept declining. But somehow, it is still observed today.
What kept it going? It is unclear. Perhaps customs, such as Halloween that are celebrated nearby, kept it going? Perhaps the reinstatement in the 17th century made the fireworks be a celebration of freedom today?
Whatever the reasons, fireworks and bonfires are awesome to watch (without the effigy)! Take a look at this:
² Ibid.*Sadly, I was ill last night, so I couldn’t join in any firework fun. That is why I posted on here instead. At least, I got to view some private ones from the window of my flat.