Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Every year on the 5th of November, we celebrate Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night in the UK. This would probably be called a holiday in the US. It's kinda similar to the 4th of July, in that we have fireworks and bonfires, but there the similarity ends. Part of our 'celebrations' involve the burning of a guy on a bonfire, which would probably seem quite shocking/barbaric to my American friends! When I was a kid, guys were made by stuffing old clothes with paper or straw - it would look like a scarecrow of sorts. Said guy would then be wheeled round the neighborhood by us kids, asking people for a penny for the guy. The money would either be donated to a charity or to buy fireworks to set off round the bonfire and the poor guy would be perched on top of the fire before being set alight! Most bonfires were and still are organized by charitable groups, neighborhoods or councils and are usually accompanied by a huge firework display.
But why, I hear you say? Well, back in 1605, a young man called Guy Fawkes was arrested whilst guarding some explosives placed under the House of Lords by a group planning to blow up King James I. People round London lit bonfires to celebrate the failure of the Gunpowder Plot as it was called, and every year after that, the tradition continued, although only in England at that time. The stuffed guy I spoke of earlier, of course, symbolizes the man himself, Guy Fawkes. Poor Mr Fawkes was tortured after his arrest and jumped to his death before he could be executed - quite a grisly ending.
Over the years, the traditional bonfire has gradually changed into an annual party all over the UK. On the 5th of November, there are bonfires and fireworks everywhere, usually followed by a trip to the pub for the over 18's. It's mostly cold, sometimes damp and always dark, but it's always a fun night for kids and grown ups alike - albeit a strange thing to 'celebrate'!
Here in America, we have many holidays throughout the year, two of which are for honoring the military. While I do think it's a bit strange to call Memorial Day and Veterans Day holidays, it's certainly not a bad thing to honor the military at any time. Memorial Day is at the end of May and is a time to remember military personnel who died serving their country. It's often also seen as the official start to the summer. The thing that I find strange is that there are huge Memorial Day sales in stores - how does that honor people in the military? Then we have Veterans Day in November - this is a day to thank all military personnel who serve or have served honorably in the military during peace or war. It's mostly intended for living veterans, whilst still acknowledging those who died serving their country. Many restaurants serve free meals to military members which is fantastic! But again, there are sales associated with this day too, which to me, just doesn't seem right. In its defense, America does honor the military every day which is a wonderful thing, but I just can't help comparing these holidays to Remembrance Sunday in the UK, with our poppies, somber parades, placing of wreaths on memorials and church services to honor the dead. We would never call this day a holiday and it took me some time to get used to Veterans and Memorial Days being described as holidays.
Anyhow, Thanksgiving is fast approaching and that is the official start to the main holiday season over here. I can't wait! I fully intend to decorate for Christmas in the next couple of weeks - something that isn't very common in the UK this early. I love the holiday season here and everything that comes with it. America really embraces all things festive and I do too - probably a little too much when it comes to the amazing baked holiday treats... Bring it!