Why We Should Remember the Fifth of November

It is a mainstay of British culture that we have fireworks, bonfires and toffee apples to commemorate the 5th November.​ There are often huge displays in public parks that include fun fairs and burger sellers. As I arrange my own fireworks party at home, I’m wondering if morally I should.

There are always objectors to events. But the main concern is over safety for animals and children. We are talking about fire and explosions after all. The complaints about ethics are quite minimal.

However, from an historical point of view, is it right that we celebrate the death of a man, Guy Fawkes, who was tortured by the hands of the rulers of England? It is generally accepted that he was the scapegoat for the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament, not the brains behind it. A law was passed in 1606 called the Observance of the 5th November 1605 Act, whereby church bells rang out and services were held to commemorate the assassination attempt on King James of England and Scotland. There have been many conspiracy theories surrounding the event with political double-crossing and religious overtones. England did not have religious freedom and many thought that King James would be more lenient toward the Catholics as he was brought up in a Catholic household in Scotland. Up until the last century the figure burning atop bonfires was the pope. Of course that has ended and the evening is now simply a fun occasion.

But in this peaceful age should I have my party?

I have decided that it is fair to remember. Perhaps not for the original event, the gunpowder plot, but more for the symbol it has become or should be: that terrorism is not acceptable. As that is what it was. A group of people decided to blow up the home of the English and Scottish government in an act of terror. The challenge was not made in a democratic or civilised manner. Yes, I appreciate that democracy in the 1600s was not what we understand it to be now, but it was an underhand way to try to change things.

So I’m ordering my toffee apples after all.

(c) 2012 A.J. Sefton http://www.ajsefton.com

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