It is a curious general rule of the world that every nation I’ve ever heard of has a special holiday dedicated to fire and blowing things up. I’m not sure why this is, but my best theory is that most people are closet pyromaniacs and it’s best we indulge in this bit of fun on a regular basis lest we snap and set fire to something that actually matters.
The most popular such holiday in the United Kingdom is Guy Fawkes Night, usually known as Bonfire Night or “the 5th of November thing in V for Vendetta” depending on your knowledge of Britain. Usually this is celebrated by a torchlight procession to a giant bonfire followed by a fireworks display, and because I was in southern England this year we decided to head for Winchester, the ancient capital of England that hosts a rather nice Bonfire Night every year.You start at the town hall, where thousands of revelers show up for a torchlight procession to the bonfire site-
Where a torch can be procured for a mere pound, so of course I got one-
And then the procession through the streets of Winchester began! Quite fun, though my occasional shouts of “burn, Catholics, burn!” never had others join in. I’m not entirely certain why, though, because cool as a peaceful mob wielding torches looks I’m sure the origins of this tradition weren’t rooted purely in a social call.
But anyway, finally the procession ended in a park, where it was time to light a huge number of old crates for a giant fire-
And when that burned down to a manageable level it was time for the fireworks! And I feel obliged to mention that the volunteers on the committee who organize the Winchester bonfire night are an interesting bunch- while it’s not an unusual thing to set fireworks to music, I really wanted to have a stern talking-to to whoever thought Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On was great background for the occasion. But hey, can’t complain, at least it wasn’t like that infamous display in Scotland this year…
Of course, at the end of it all this American spent a little bit of time considering which I enjoy more, the 4th of July or Bonfire Night. At the end of it the 4th of July wins for me, not just because it’s in the summer but because the American holiday falls in line more with my sensibilities. Put it this way, in the USA we celebrate throwing off the shackles of the British king on Independence Day, on Guy Fawkes Night the British celebrate that the status quo was upheld and the king remained in charge.
Proof, I suppose, that you can learn a lot about a country from its holiday dedicated to the closet pyromaniacs among us.