Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Halloween and that guy, Guy Fawkes

I thought that we didn't used to do Halloween, in England, but as explained here: Info About English Culture, in many places we did.

When I was young, the 31st October was something the church referred to as All Hallows Eve and Halloween, as celebrated now, had yet to be imported from America; exposure to American culture then being largely confined to comics and televised Tom & Jerry cartoons.

In England, childrens' attention was focused on the 5th of November and the short evenings, after school before it got dark, leading up to Bonfire Night, were spent collecting for and building the bonfire.

'Guy Fawkes Night Hambledon' - watercolour by Richard Mitchell

Many customs surrounding relatively recent events in history recall older customs founded on ancient religions and ceremonies, and perhaps bonfires and lit effigies or guys, were merely assimilated into the commemoration of the 1605 attempt on the Stuart King's life and Parliament.

For us, the evening of the 31st October was Mischievous Night, when children old enough to play out of doors in the safety of the village streets during the darkening autumn evenings, made a Guy out of old clothes stuffed with newspapers, and hawked him round the houses, reciting "Remember, remember, the Fifth of November" and asking for a "penny for the Guy". If we were rewarded with a few coppers (pre-decimal pennies), they were collected to buy fireworks, or the special Bonfire Toffee only available in the corner shop at this time of year.

If we were unrewarded, we thought it reasonable to do a little mischief, which was innocent and merely annoying; lifting gates off their hinges and swopping them around with neighbouring gates - this only possible then when small gates led to front garden paths, in the days before every house had a car parked out front. Or we took their empty milk bottles left out on the door step for the next early morning delivery, to use for launching the rockets the big boys lit on Bonfire Night. Or just banged on the door and ran away, as you do.

Today, through the letterbox, the parish magazine reminding parishioners that: "On 5th November we call to mind the happy deliverance of King James I and the Three Estates of England from the intended Massacre by the Gunpowder". So that's all right then.

The Stuart King called for a sermon to be preached on the first anniversary of the 1605 attempt at treason, and the Church of England does it still, but for us heathens we have this rhyme, today culled from the website of the Yorkshire Firework Company

Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November

Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason

Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent,

To blow up King and Parliament,

Three score barrels of powder below

Poor old England to overthrow

By God's Providence he was catch'd

With a dark lantern and burning match

Holler boys, holler; make the bells ring,

Holler boys, holler: God Save the King.


Blogger Elizabeth McClung said...

Good memories, I wish I had tried some of the Halloween Toffee - I did laugh out loud at the Church of England putting a leaflet through the door in case anyone has been planning in the 400+ years to blow up parliment again (like who hasn't thought of it, really?) Happy all hallows

The one story I remember most of this time of year - The Legend of Sleepy Hallow (freaked me out as a child no end!)

Wednesday, 31 October 2007 at 22:57:00 GMT  
Blogger Sally said...

The Legend of Sleepy Hallow freaked me out as an adult !

Bonfire, not Halloween, Toffee was very black and hard not chewy, lasted forever. Then there was Parkin, a sticky and strong flavoured ginger and black treacle cake, and toffee apples. All very bad for the teeth, but only once a year - for Bonfire Night not Halloween !

The Church of England ... it was quite subtle really, and I quoted it out of context for the history, but yes, now I read it with another's eyes, I see it is a LOL moment.

Thursday, 1 November 2007 at 10:05:00 GMT  
Blogger Ol Nobby said...

Ahh many a Guy fawkes night hath I spent at the Fire Station awaiting the little so and sos, (and not so little) to set the bush clad hills alight so I could spend my time crawling in hot soot admiring glow worms which still glowed despite the fire.

Good yet horrific times!

Our willy washy PC, Greenie, Legislation loving Left Wing Wally self righteous Gumbootment has virtually banned fireworks, (And common sense) in an attempt to stop people hurting themselves others and burning the bushes.

One wonders, with trepidation, what without fireworks, mischiefiness people will now turn too instead.

Them olden day folks had a few brains.

Let em play with fire and they will leave the gates alone!

Thursday, 1 November 2007 at 22:23:00 GMT  
Blogger seahorse said...

I love reading about the history behind this time of year, and it helps dismiss the cheap and nasty screamer mask version that prowls the streets today. My son, dribbling on his way back from the dentist, would have put the frighteners on anyone. Lip size of small car tyre, pumpkin grin, and lots of drool. Very halloween.

Thursday, 1 November 2007 at 23:02:00 GMT  
Blogger Sally said...

Hello Nobby - you have reminded me of a childhood excitement I had forgotten ... the small village I lived in was divided by an outcrop of cliffs and the big boys of the village devided themselves into the upper and lower gangs. One year, the other gang set light to our bonfire a few days before Bonfire Night, and a fire engine was called out ... so the next year the lower gang got their revenge ... then the local bobbies got involved to stop it getting really serious !

Also, the first professional organised firework display I took my daughter to thinking it safer than fireworks at home, ended in a fiasco when rockets instead of going skywards went sideways, exploding in the car park under cars ! That was chaos.

You are right ... these old customs of bonfires and fireworks were a good outlet for energy, as well as answering the age old community need to lighten the darkening days. (And it was a matter of honour that we always put the gates back the next day !)

Sunday, 4 November 2007 at 14:57:00 GMT  
Blogger Sally said...

Seahors, I hate those screamer masks, the speak of something more malignant than Guy Fawkes masks.
I hope yoru boy has stopped drooooooling by now !

Sunday, 4 November 2007 at 14:59:00 GMT  

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