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Penny for the Guy?

Jeff Myhre

Posted on November 3, 2018 13:17

1 user

Guy Fawkes Day and Bonfire Night recall the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when a plan to destroy King and Parliament failed. I like it for the fireworks and the food.

I have lived in New York City for more than 30 years, but before that, I spent a few years as a Londoner. Every so often, I find I miss something about the UK, and this week, I am missing Guy Fawkes Day, which falls on November 5.

Back in 1605, there was a plot to murder Protestant King James I and most of the other leaders of England by Catholics. The plan was to explode barrel upon barrel of gunpowder below where Parliament was to convene. One of the plotters sent a letter to a friend of his, who was a Member of Parliament, warning him to stay away. The letter was intercepted, the plot discovered and the plotters arrested.

Guy Fawkes was found guarding the explosives, so he was remembered by history. Sentenced to death, he jumped from the scaffold breaking his neck before he could be hanged, drawn and quartered (which smarts).

To commemorate this happy event, the custom has been to burn Fawkes in effigy the night of November 5 on a bonfire – hence it's often called Bonfire Night.

Traditionally (and I am sad to report this appears to be dying out), kids would create a “Guy” by stuffing old clothes with leaves and paper, and either wheel him around in a wagon or sit him on a street corner. Then, they would ask passers-by “A penny for the Guy?” The funds collected would be used to purchase fireworks to be stuffed into the dummy.

At night fall, bonfires are lit and people gather around to eat, drink and burn the Guy. The food is simple – jacket potatoes (baked potatoes for those who speak Yankee) with cheese, broccoli and other such toppings, toasted marshmallows, black peas, a variety of soups, and Parkin Cake (made from oatmeal, treacle, ginger and syrup or honey).

If you have spent a couple of hours outdoors in England on a November night, it's all welcome stuff. And a hip-flask of whiskey or brandy helps for the grown ups.

Naturally, mixing fireworks with children is problematic (and adults, fireworks and booze is as bad), and the custom has been sanitized much as July 4 has in America. The local council or civic groups will organize a bonfire rather than every house having its own in the back garden. And fireworks aren't as easy to come by (thanks bin Laden). The American export of Halloween has also undermined Bonfire Night a bit.

Of course, Bonfire Night has been exported as well. Several places in the Commonwealth celebrate it. Up in Scotland (which had its own parliament in 1605) there are fireworks, Newfoundland and Labrador celebrate is as do South Africa and New Zealand.

Although a bonfire in the summer sounds odd. In Australia, fireworks sales are banned due to brush fires, so it's fizzled there. In the US, it was called Pope Day, but then there was that revolution, and blowing up the king didn't seem such a bad thing.

Jeff Myhre

Posted on November 3, 2018 13:17

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Source: WTOP

LONDON (AP) — A British town plans to burn a 36-foot (11-meter) effigy of Harvey Weinstein at its annual Bonfire Night celebrations....

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