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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Guy Fawkes Night - An English Tradition


Guy Fawkes was involved in the gunpowder plot to blow up the English houses of parliament in 1605. Barrels of gunpowder were smuggled into a cellar and the band of conspirators planned to light the fuse while parliament was in session. If I remember correctly, one of the conspirators had a relative in parliament and he was encouraged not to attend parliament that day. Having been tipped off, it led to the arrest of Guy Fawkes who was preparing to the light the fuse. Since 1605, November 5th has been celebrated each year in England. As children in London we used to build bonfires, which more often than not got soaked with a steady downpour before the celebrations began. We stuffed old clothes with newspaper, made a mask, and prepared the effigy to put on top of the lighted fire. One year we included my dad’s army boots tied to the end of some old trousers. The effigy was supposed to represent Guy Fawkes – all very gruesome. Children would stand outside train stations and on street corners with their “Guy” in an old pram and ask “Penny for the Guy.” The money was supposed to go toward fireworks but I expect most of it ended up at the local sweet shop. One year we took our “Guy” on the bus and the conductor made us pay for him because he took up a whole seat. Not that we were in the habit of toting an effigy around London but we were going to a party and we didn’t know anyone with a car. Television commercials encouraged all festivities to include Standard Fireworks and a jingle “Light up the Sky with Standard Fireworks,” still rings in my ears each November 5th. By the fire, the adults would light fireworks and we ate baked potatoes, which had been cooked in the ashes of the bonfire, and drink hot tomato soup while bundled up with enough clothes to resemble Randy from a Christmas Story. Kids would chant “Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot.”

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