Guy Fawkes Day is among New Zealand’s most bizarre commemorations. For my international readers, here it is the only time of year when anyone of a “responsible” age can buy and let off fireworks. The reason for such merriment – to commemorate this foiled plot to blow up the House of Lords. In England. Four centuries ago.
While the original reason behind the commemoration might not be relevant to twenty-first century New Zealanders it is undeniable that Guy Fawkes Night has managed to persist and in its own way has become part of our culture. The sounds of fireworks in early November conjures up nostalgic memories for many. We fondly remember bonfires (now need a permit), sky-rockets (now banned), Tom Thumb crackers (also banned), roman candles (which you aren’t supposed to hold) and writing your name in the air with sparklers (still allowed, but be careful). It isn’t the meaning of the holiday that persists, but the excitement of having the opportunity to make things go bang.
Out of curiosity I thought I might rewind the clock and see what a Kiwi Guy Fawkes commemoration might have been like 100 years ago. Thanks to Papers Past I found the following extract from the Evening Post, Volume LXXXIV, Issue 110, 5 November 1912.
From the feeble efforts shown by some Wellington children to-day the art of “Guy construction” is in a very low state. A bundle of clothes, a hat, and a penny mask did the trick. While there was no ingenuity shown in the average effigy, there was plenty of assurance on the part of the boys (and girls) in collecting money for fireworks. The weary citizen in his beauty-sleep who was awakened by shouts of Guy Fawkes, Guy!” at from 4.30 to 5 in the morning was probably in no mood to fling largesse among his disturbers- The children were persistent, however, going from house to house in their own localities. Public enthusiasm in the Fifth of November does not extend much beyond the purchase of a few fireworks (mostly Chinese) for the children. No doubt the excuse to have bonfires tonight will be taken advantage of, especially on the Town Belt, but the Fifth of November as such is a day that has long since lost its significance.
As described by the above writer, a key part of any Guy Fawkes celebration in 1912 was the construction of an effigy to be burned on the bonfire. This task was usually performed by children who would then cart their “Guy” around their neighborhood and ask for donations for fireworks. “Can I have a Penny for the Guy”.
This fantastic photograph of Kiwi children with their “Guys” was taken about 110 years ago and would be fairly representative of scenes up and down the country every 5th November. Continue reading