Remember, Remember The Fifth Of November!

Bonfire (photo Daniel Perkin)

Bonfire Night

Bonfire night is when we celebrate and remember, remember the failure of Guy Fawkes to blow up Parliament in 1605! (Anybody want to have another go?😁)

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, ‘Twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow
By God’s providence he was catch’d
Holler boys, holler boys, let the bells ring
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the King!

Traditional folk rhyme

The Guy

In my childhood, I thought we lit a bonfire and put a guy on the top of it to re-enact history. To remember the fate of Guy Fawkes. This was wrong, of course, as Guy Fawkes met his demise by leaping from the gallows, breaking his neck (we all know that, right?). Thus, escaping the grisly fate of being hung, drawn, and quartered.

Why burn the Guy? My childhood belief in the ritual burning of a homemade stuffed body of old clothes with a Guy mask was wrong! Guy Fawkes wasn’t burned at the stake! Burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on the 5th of November celebrates the foiling of the 1605 plot to blow up Parliament. Not because he died that way.

Bonfire word origin

Another thing I got wrong is thinking that bonfire means Good Fire! The word bonfire doesn’t mean Good Fire at all! The French word Bon translated into English means good, but it has nothing to do with bonfires! I am in good company believing we stole the French word and prefixed it to fire. Samuel Johnson thought the same! The origin for the word is from Middle English and is Bone Fyre, Fire of Bones. So, now we know!

Bone Fyre

But in worship of saints iohan the people woke at home & made all manner of fires.
On was clene bones & no wode & that is called a bone fyre
A nothir is clene wode & no Bones & that is called a wode fyre fore people to site & to wake there by.

John Mirk, 1486

Penny For The Guy

When I was a child, I sat on the cold pavement under the railway bridge, beside my stuffed with newspaper dummy that was dressed up in my dad’s old clothes. I sat a long time in Hope for coins. I sat until I got as floppy, slumped and limp as the Guy, repeating the phrase, “Penny for the guy, penny for the guy”. My delight when the great big copper pennies clinked into the old cap on the ground in front of my Guy Fawkes can only be expressed as childlike! All the money gained was to be spent on fireworks! A prepared rocket set in a glass milk bottle, a Catherine wheel, and some sparklers. Sparklers are still my favourite fireworks today! The family gathered together to watch my dad set them off one by one, while we ate pie and mushy peas.

Enjoy Guy Fawkes Night!

Keep pets indoors. Have fun and stay safe!


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