As I was driving home from work earlier this week I was amazed to see how many Halloween costumed children were paving the streets with parents and buckets in hand. It started me thinking about my childhood and my own children growing up. It wasn’t with Halloween. I thought, “What happened to Guy Fawkes?”.
For those who need a refresher, Guy Fawkes was a member of the Gunpowder Plotters who set out to blow up England’s King James I in Parliament House on the fifth of November 1605. They failed, and to celebrate the King’s survival, people around London lit bonfires. Over time this became an official annual public holiday of thanksgiving for the failed plot and the introduction of the Observance of 5th November Act, marking the occasion, was enforced.
Consequently in Australia this tradition continued as an enjoyable commemoration from as long as I can remember. Like the majority of other English descendants, every fifth of November under parental supervision, our family would build a huge bonfire. We all contributed to the structure and the bigger the better.
We were lucky enough to have spare land at the back of our house or we built a fire on the beach out the front near the sea. We were taught to respect fire, be careful not to stand too close in case the fire started spitting, and not to fool around. Not sure if we always did as we were told.
It was magical and fire crackers and sky rockets were a huge hit. We would place the long cane stick of a rocket in an empty beer bottle, quickly light the wick, stand back, listen to the hiss and watch the rocket shoot up into the dark. It was spectacular. Showers of gold, silver and coloured bursts of shooting stars would light up the sky followed by blooms of coloured sparkled flowers that would linger then fall back to earth. It was an exciting time for kids and parents alike as we shared our fun with the neighbours.
We knew the rules and abided by them. There were no health and safety laws then, we just had to be careful. Of course, the safety aspect understandably became an issue over time due to a number of major injuries and some fatalities. Needless to say, in hindsight, I was lucky.
One particular incident involved my big brother daring me to hold a penny banger as a fizzer. The process was to bend the banger in half and partially break it in the middle, but not all the way through, so it remained connected and the cracker powder semi-exposed.
You would then hold the two ends of the cracker in one hand, light a match and place the flame where the break was. You had to hold the cracker facing away from you to avoid the firing sparks hitting your face. Some of the kids would chase each other with the fizzer. It was fun to do at the time but I wouldn’t do it now.
Once, my fizzer fired backwards. I think my big brother dared me to do it as it was a rather large cracker. As a result, I had a nasty burn up one of my fingers on my right hand. It was excruciating but I didn’t go to the doctor. You didn’t in those days as it was “just a burn” and, can you believe it, butter was used which fuelled the burn and the pain.
It took a long time for my finger to heal and it may be the reason why the nail on the burnt finger still looks slightly odd when it grows longer. Thankfully we have learned our ways.
My children may not remember a lot about Guy Fawkes as they grew up in Melbourne where fires were controlled and bonfires banned. Fire crackers were still legal then. We would buy them at local shops and have our own fun. No injuries, luckily. Halloween began to merge when they were around ten or twelve but it was nothing like today and I didn’t ever consider the concept that it would be as huge as it is now.
Halloween was something that Americans did and it really wasn’t popular at the time. It’s not what Australians did. However, times change. I have come to realise that with America being the powerful country it is, it was only a matter of time before Australia was influenced by US consumerism and traditions. Whether we planned it or not, we have traded off part of our inherited culture.
I hope that when my grand children grow up they will understand what I am saying about where our traditions originated and how we lost some of them.
Will it be too late for them to comprehend or will they really care? Only time will tell.