“Remember, Remember…” The Ominous Origins of Bonfire Night

“Remember, remember the fifth of November…”

I’ve always found that old saying rather ominous, and I think Bonfire Night itself is unsettling. What makes it so harrowing for me isn’t the historical origins (of Guy Fawkes nearly blowing up parliament), but the people standing by a blazing fire and watching as the life-sized mannequin of a person goes up in flames…

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Usually we’d go to the fireworks at our local park, where they also light a bonfire and sell hot dogs. In more recent years we haven’t actually gone, but watched the fireworks from my bedroom window. I hadn’t realised how much of a tradition that was until it didn’t happen this year.

I know burning Guy Fawkes is a symbol of victory for England, and perhaps a disguised warning for future plotters, as it represents a condemnation of treachery… But it seems strange to me that we celebrate burning someone at the stake – an awful fate that many people faced throughout history (many of whom were innocent), and something that is now banned in our country.

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Of course, it can be seen as a form of art, people coming together to share in creativity and community! There are many traditions and other things that have roots in darker origins, so perhaps it’s something to commend – that we find things to celebrate from within that darkness?

But witnessing what almost seems like mob-mentality still sticks with me, as we stand and watch a recreated image of something we would condemn if it happened for real… Then again, that would be a fitting description for many dramatic art forms – where are the boundaries between ‘real’ and ‘pretend’? Perhaps it can be considered parallel to theatre, where people act out conflict and murder with fake swords and blood and death, just as the human-sized Guy is fake…

But the flames are real.

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(Ironically, accompanied by photos where the fire is clearly not real – there’s a juxtaposition for you! :D)

Hello all you from England, and those elsewhere! Do you celebrate bonfire night? For those of you who don’t, are you familiar with it?

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