Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Burning Guy

Guy Fawkes Day
Guy Fawkes Day
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
It turns out that one reason Halloween in New Zealand is so unsuccessful is that it immediately proceeds a far more important annual ritual: Guy Fawkes Day. If you are like me – an ignorant, unlettered American – you have probably never heard of Guy Fawkes. Or maybe you have, though in passing as you tried to decipher the messaging of that oddly fascinating Wachoswki movie V for Vendetta.
“Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.”
Apparently, it's not just the poet...no one knows a reason to forget this event. Certainly not the British or any of the residents of their commonwealth countries. Even after watching V for Vendetta – maybe because of that movie – it wasn't clear to me that Guy was The First Guy... the Guy who created the word 'guy.' Nor was it clear to me that he attempted to blow up the British Parliament in 1605. And it absolutely never occurred to my historically shallow American sensibilities that the English would still be blowing stuff up over four hundred years later to commemorate the thwarting of the Gun Powder Plot. Yes, as baffling as it seems, the English are still so pissed off at Guy, that they have been burning him in effigy for four centuries. Talk about holding a grudge.

It's obvious why Kiwi's celebrate this holiday; It's a great excuse to drink a lot and blow shit up. Falling as it does at the beginning of the summer season, it's the ideal opportunity to kick off the holidays and the start of tramping season, vacations, and the pending consumptive Christmas extravaganza... with a bang, as it were. Everyone troops off to the nearest park or stadium at about five in the evening armed with chilly-bins, pavlovas, piss, lollies, sizzlers, and pies, children, chairs and grandparents. Some even haul out a couch. Then everyone nibbles and sips for hours while the bands play, the singers sing, the dancers dance, the kapa haka groups stomp and pound and the teenagers strut their teenage stuff. At dark, the stadium lights are doused and the fireworks begin.

Sunny Girls
Sunny Girls
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
New Zealanders see no reason to burn Guy, though. At least we didn't see a bonfire in Pukekohe. We spent the holiday this year with an Irish history teacher who was full of all sorts of interesting quotes and historical trivia. He noted that in his home country, bonfires are pretty much an essential component of the Guy Fawkes Holiday celebrations. But then again, unlike New Zealand, it is cold in the U.K. on November 5. Standing around the bonfire prevents spectators from freezing to death while waiting for the fireworks. Apparently, the tradition of burning a guy has been expanded in the U.K. to include the burning of just about any disliked public figure. There's a great quote in Wikipedia: “Effigies of other notable figures who have become targets for the public's ire, such as Paul Kruger and Margaret Thatcher, have also found their way onto the bonfires.” I admit to being highly tempted by the opportunity to burn in effigy a few public figures that have earned my own personal animus during the past year.

After the fireworks were over, slightly sunburnt, stuffed with food and good company, we trooped over to our friends' house and got quietly soused while the kids played Wii. The entire experience was like a Fourth of July celebration without the jingoism and Sousa marches and the addition of a haka and a rugby team autographing posters in the in-field. Just a word of advice to Americans moving to the antipodes – buy your fireworks in November if you plan on celebrating the “real fourth.” They don't sell them here in the winter.

1 comment:

jomamma said...

Thanks for posting about the Kiwi holidays, it's interesting learning about them. Will your family celebrate Thanksgiving? My daughter spent the Christmas season in Melbourne one year and said it felt very strange, with the weather being so warm.