Each year, on November 5th, the crackling sounds and eccentric lights of fireworks reverberate throughout the United Kingdom in commemoration of a 1605 Catholic conspirator attempt to blow up the British parliament (perhaps this sounds familiar from the popular American novel, V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore.) Although Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night, seems like it is promoting anarchy and advocating for political uprising, its symbolism is meant to do just the opposite!
King James I was the leader of the United Kingdom during the 17th century, a period plagued by religious tensions among Protestants and Catholics. Unlike his Protestant King, Guy Fawkes believed that Catholicism should be restored as the predominant religion in the United Kingdom. The original idea to assassinate King James I came from Robert Catesby, who suggested that he, along with twelve others including Fawkes, fill the British Parliament with 36 barrels of gun powder and ignite the explosion on November 5th. Fortunately for King James I, Fawkes was found guarding the barrels of gun powder on the night of the plan and was arrested before the plot was executed. Guy Fawkes was sentenced to death on January 31, 1606, when King James I suggested that the United Kingdom celebrate the failed attempt of the Gunpowder plot.
This past Tuesday, three of my friends (all international students as well) and I decided to catch a train to Leeds for our very first bonfire night. The whole celebration sounded a bit strange to us, but having missed out on hayrides, haunted houses and bonfires leading up to Halloween this year, we were desperate for the sweet smell of smoke and hopeful that perhaps we would find our first s’more of the season. Instead, what we found was 13 fires throughout the city of Leeds alone, countless firework displays, and a handful of public carnivals!
We quickly learned that Guy Fawkes Night is a great time to try traditional British food associated with the holiday, such as parkin, candied apples, bonfire toffee, or black beans, and that it is one of the biggest club nights of the season and generates a lot of excitement around the college campuses in general. Despite completely staining my all-white sneakers with mud and tar (a bad decision on my part) and staying out past my bedtime, Guy Fawkes Night was totally worth the experience, and I highly recommend that you check it out if you are ever in town!