When I first moved to the Netherlands, I was surprised to see fireworks being set off to celebrate the New Year. In Scotland, where I grew up, fireworks were only on the 5th of November. Dating from 1605, that was the date on which we celebrated the failure of Guy Fawkes and his group to blow up the houses of parliament and kill the protestant King James I. Interestingly, there is a connection with the Netherlands, where I have lived for thirty years now, since Guy Fawkes fought for Catholic Spain against the Dutch Reformers in the Eighty Years War.
As children, we would make a ‘guy’ out of twigs and newspapers, an effigy to be burned on the bonfire. We were told the story of Guy Fawkes but really, the significance never really registered. It was just a night to look forward to, with bonfires, fireworks, staying up late, hot chocolate and treats. In Scotland, we tended to call all fireworks ‘squibs’ (1520s – ‘short bit of sarcastic writing’ and ‘small firework that burns with a hissing noise’). Then there were Catherine wheels that you had to nail to a post where they would spin madly, sparks flying, until the final bang.
‘Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.’
Happy Bonfire Night to all who celebrate it!