So tomorrow it’s that time of year again when we celebrate one bearded bloke’s failure to blow up and set fire to parliament by… blowing things up and setting fire to stuff. Now I love bonfire night and, having already attended one fireworks display this week I fully intend to be out there again watching pretty explosions in the night’s sky, waving sparkler’s around and, more importantly, eating Toffee Apples (it’s ok, they’re apples – they MUST be healthy). To be honest though it’s always struck me as a slightly unusual celebration – after all things are not blown up on an almost daily basis and whilst I’m certainly glad of this fact and despite the laws of balance and Newton’s arguments of every action having an equal and opposite reaction, the sight of something not being blown up still rarely fills me with a deep desire to go and blow something else up instead.
Bonfires and fireworks have for centuries been associated with great celebration and new beginnings – we use them at weddings, at the dawn of each new year, Royal Jubilees, great festive events and shortly after any time Paul McCartney sings Hey Jude for an hour or so. Each time they are used in an incredibly positive context (we’re all glad when Paul eventually looks at his watch and hits the final note), but it seems to me a clear example of the comparative optimism and cynicism between the US and the the UK that whilst their main dedicated fireworks celebration is in celebration of their independence – of their mantra of freedom, liberty and justice for all, here in the UK we get together every year to taunt Guy Fawkes for his failure and show him how it’s done.
Now you may argue that in fact bonfire night is in its own way celebrating our nation’s own freedom just as America celebrates its independence – after all an attack on parliament is an attack on democracy and freedom itself. This is all true of course, although mobs of people getting together and throwing an effigy of the guy (no pun intended) onto the fire does seem to do more harm than good to the image of democracy on the whole. On the other hand he did apparently wear a silly hat and as history has shown (witches always wore particularly silly hats of a not dissimilar shape) that probably makes it ok.
So I reckon it’s time to take a lesson from our American cousins and rebrand bonfire night to something a little cheerier. Possibly not American independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain… for some reason we Brits seem a little grumpier about that than they do… but something altogether truly wonderful and worthy of the fireworks that are so intrinsically tied with joy. When I see a happy couple arm in arm on their wedding day, watching the fireworks in the sky as the culmination of the happiest day of their lives I’m filled with great hope and excitement. Thinking about the fact that Guy Fawkes’ failure means that Jeremy Paxman still has elected officials to be grumpy at doesn’t have quite the same effect for me.
So Remember Remember the 5th of November but forget about poor old Guy… make those fireworks a celebration of something amazing in your life, something that excites you and really makes you ooh and aah. But whatever you choose to celebrate on bonfire night, try to make sure it’s something that you can dress up with a silly hat so the rest of us can enjoy it right along with you.