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Sunday, November 06, 2005 


It's probably the biggest night of the year, called either Bonfire night or Guy Fawkes night. So for my Ameripeeps, the short of it goes like: in 1605 religious fanatics were aiming to blow up Parliament during opening session (meaning not only every MP, but also the Prime Minister and the King would bite the dust) to teach 'em a lesson, someone snitched, and guards found ole' Fawkes-y sneaking around below the Parliament building with 36 kegs of dynamite. (See long version here.)

I'm still trying to make the connection between a thwarted bomb attempt and fireworks, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying it.

I must say, seeing fireworks shot off a barge in the Thames in front of St. Paul's is the coolest thing I've seen in a while!

I've always assumed that at some point, someone displaying typical Britsih ingenuity was standing around the traditional Bonfire Night bonfire and said, "This would be more fun if something were to blow up."

Hence the fireworks.

It was one of the more impressive displays I've seen. The cascades running across the Millennium Bridge were particularly impressive. Best of all, there was virtually no one on the north bank so I had an uninterrupted view of the display! :-)

There's more fireworks getting fired off another barge, one bridge downstream next weekend.

I've always assumed it was a wistful thing - you can stand there watching the fireworks and sigh "oh, what might have been..."

I was randomly looking for financial aid for studying in England and I came across your blog. You are practically living the life I would like to have right now. I am looking to apply for 2006-2007 to schools in London for an MA in Art History, Museum Studies, or Renaissance Studies. It would have been so cool to be there for the fireworks for Guy Fawkes Day. If you ever want to talk e-mail me at RGoldsby@Flagler.edu. I loved reading some of your accounts of the people there and things you encounter...like their concept of time and such. I went to England in the summer of 2004. I fell in love and cannot wait to return!

Some called him a fanatic, others like to think of Guy Fawkes as a visionary...

Bonfire night is a very old tradition. It almost certainly predates Guy Faukes by a good few thousand years. It's a celebration of the end of the harvest season (the coincidence with Halloween is not actually a coincidence at all). It's been re-branded in the UK to remove any trace of paganism or Celtism, Mysticism or Druidism or Catholicism from it. Indeed, it's technically as deeply a sectarian celebration of the defeat of Catholicism in England as Northern Ireland's tradition of Orange Parades is a celebration of the defeat of Catholicism in Northern Ireland. It's not for effect that in some places they burn effigies of the pope rather than Guy Faukes. However, unlike the orange parades and the rest, the fireworks, making London sound like downtown Baghdad or Belfast, are today just an excuse for a bit of (increasing regulated) pyromania. When I was a kid the fireworks were available to anyone with the money to pay for them from October onwards and they were going off from then on every night (with all the obvious casualties). Now, they seem to be increasingly tied to the period between Diwali and the end of Ramadan and Halloween and November 5th, with a few saved for new year. (for why the former are at vaguely the same time see the beginning of this post).

The King and Parliament, but not the Prime Minister. These weren't invented until 1721 when Robert Walpole was the first (Whig) Prime Minister.

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