Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What Does Guy Fawkes Say?

Remember, remember
The fifth of November,
For it's Guy Fawkes Day
And the Brits are at play,
Lighting the skies with fire!

That's right! It's Guy Fawkes Day and that means fireworks and bonfires are ablaze throughout Britain. It must be some celebration of freedom or commemorating some historical event that changed British history forever. Well, kind of, but not really at all. If they hadn't made a holiday of it, people might not even remember it, considering all that happened was a close call.

Let me explain.

Guy Fawkes was a dude who, along with a dozen other people, plotted to assassinate King James I in 1605 and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. They planned to do this by blowing up Parliament. But the plan was foiled and he was the unlucky sod caught guarding the gunpowder.

So instead of history allowing him to drift into the forgotten abyss, the Brits ensured that he went down in history for his major cock-up. (For my American friends, a "cock-up" is just a "fail", but more hilarious sounding.) How have they done this? By blowing stuff up and lighting giant fires. Amazing. Technically, or at least according to Wikipedia, the tradition started with the public celebrating King James I's escape by lighting bonfires. Not sure if they appreciated the irony then, but hopefully when the fireworks were added to the mix, it was obvious.

This is why I love Britain, and now Guy Fawkes Day, because it wears its irony on its sleeve. I'd say that it is my favorite holiday, but it ain't got nothin' on Thanksgiving. Although Thanksgiving is not without its badge of irony.

I have no beef with Thanksgiving if you look at it as a celebration of the harvest that is commemorated by taking a respite from work, gathering with family and enjoying a festive feast. But in the US, children are taught that it's a celebration of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans living in harmony and sharing the bounty.

Okay. I'll give you the bounty thing a little bit if they were also taught that the British, I mean the settlers, then committed genocide on the Native Americans and stripped them of their land, traditions and pride. But that's not really what you want to tell a 6 year old, so let's just tell them that everyone got along and everything was hunky-dory. It won't be traumatic and confusing to later learn that not only were the Pilgrims incredibly brutal, but you were kept in the dark about it - not to mention all the other horrible facts that were conveniently omitted from history class! - leaving you feeling naturally suspicious of your education and all authority! ...Or was that just me?

At least in Britain, they're a bit more honest and up front about the violent roots of their holiday and bloody history. Until you mention how the British conquest resulted in cultures going extinct, languages dying, and general havoc that forever changed the course of human history. But, hey-ho, that's all in the past, right?

Anyway, to my American mates, go light a sparkler, get in touch with your empirical roots and don't let anyone say that you don't understand irony!