Bonfire Night (what does the Fawkes say?)

November 5th, 2013


When I was a little girl, I looked forward to the fifth of November as much as Halloween, because that was Bonfire Night. We didn’t have a bonfire at our house in the middle of town, but I remember getting in the car and driving to see fires flaring against the dark hills that surrounded the bay. I vividly remember us stopping at one of those bonfires one year. In my memory, the flames rose as tall as houses. My mother might recall it differently from an adult’s perspective, but I think I prefer to measure by the scale of an awestruck child. It was fearsome and magnificent.

I don’t remember ever hearing much about Guy Fawkes in connection with Bonfire Night. I don’t think I made the historical connection until I was an adult. I don’t remember effigies being burned, or anyone singing about the King. I didn’t realize that the persistence of Bonfire Night in Newfoundland probably owed as much to Celtic, pre-Christian roots as it did to English folk tradition. All I knew was that there was something wild and lawless about those fires twinkling in the black hills above the black sea, and that seeing them stirred something wild and lawless in me. 

My middle son has that fire. Quiet and understated in his manner, he’s the proverbial still water that runs deep. I call him my international man of mystery. He doesn’t give much away, this one. But his gifts burn bright. He’s a very talented writer and artist. He’s a riveting storyteller. He’s incredibly sensitive and attentive to animals. He’s a tinkerer–his mind is always at work on a problem.  And he has a wicked and subversive sense of humor, as seen in my post that featured his seventh grade English homework a while back.

When I got paid for that post, he got a cut, and immediately spent it on something he’d been longing for: a Guy Fawkes mask. It was stupidly expensive for a plastic mask, and it took weeks to ship directly from China, but he wanted a particular one, and he was delighted with it when it finally arrived. Tragically, he accidentally sat on it a few days later, and we had to patch it up with modelling cement. I assured him the scar would be hardly visible on Halloween night, but he decided to accentuate it with a black marker at the last minute. It was so unlike most people, and so like him.

Despite what the gruesome songs and the historians say, I don’t think we’re punishing the spirit of the renegade on Bonfire Night at all. I think we’re reveling in it–honoring that wild and lawless and sometimes fearsome part of our own souls. The streak that wants to zig when others zag. At least that’s what I’ll be celebrating when we light a fire tonight in my backyard, so many years and miles removed from childhood in Newfoundland. The blaze will be small and safe, but I’ll remember, remember those nights of November, and celebrate all the rebels, pranksters, dark horses, and mysterious, deep waters that I love. 


3 Responses to “Bonfire Night (what does the Fawkes say?)”

  1. marilee pittman says:

    The bonfires were very high as you remembered. Most were larger than a house.

  2. I’m not familiar with the tradition, but it sounds fascinating. Loved hearing about your individualist son, too.

  3. Bev says:

    I’ve not heard of this either so also loved this entire post.

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