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Guy Fawkes Day – the history, the celebrations and the problems

Dorothy - 30/10/06

5 November – Guy Fawkes Day – a day of fireworks and bonfires, but how many people letting off their fireworks know the origin of the celebration. Once children chanted the rhyme

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot..

Who was Guy Fawkes?
On the 5th November 1605 Guy Fawkes was caught in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament with several dozen barrels of gunpowder. He was part of a plot to blow up the building when the King and the Members of Parliament were there.

Queen Elizabeth who died in 1603 had persecuted English Catholics, and when her nephew James I came to the throne he continued this policy although his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, had been a Catholic. A group of thirteen young men including Guy Fawkes plotted to kill the king and the Members of Parliament who were involved in persecuting Catholics. Of course they would also have killed a lot of innocent people, so some of the group members turned against the group and betrayed them.

Guy Fawkes was subsequently tried as a traitor with his co-conspirators for plotting against the government. He was sentenced to death by the most horrible form of execution. He was to be hung ,drawn and quartered- - which showed the serious nature of the crime of treason.

When the news of the plot and the threat to the king became public, bonfires were lit all through the country to celebrate the king’s safety. This was continued on the anniversary to emphasise the seriousness of the crime of treason.

Another tradition was for children to stuff clothing with straw to look like a man and ask people for a penny for the guy which was to be burnt on the bonfire.

Mixed reactions to Guy Fawkes celebrations in the twenty first century
The letters to the newspaper at this time of year reflect the different attitudes of people who support or oppose the fireworks.

Many people rejoice in the excitement of letting off fireworks on Guy Fawkes night. Fireworks displays are put on by communities, and families have their own celebrations. However others are opposed to the practice for a range of reasons.

Some are concerned at the amount of money that is “wasted” on such occasions. They would like to see it spent on more worthy causes than entertainment.

Some protest at the accidents and fires that have been the result of the fireworks. The Fire Brigade is deeply concerned at the destruction that results from the celebrations each year and extremely heavy demands made on the Fire Service.

Others are concerned about the noise which alarms both people and animals. Anyone who has had a frightening experience from gunfire finds the noise unnerving. Animals have been injured in trying to escape from buildings or jump over fences in a bid for safety.

The period in which sales of fireworks are permitted has been limited to the period from 27 October - 5 November.

Many people think that in the interests of safety fireworks should be sold only to the authorities putting on public displays.

Media Release from NZ ERMA - New Zealand's Environmental Risk Management Authority
The following message from ERMA outlines the steps being taken to reduce the risk of injury and fire from Guy Fawkes celebrations this year.

“A temporary website with fireworks safety tips and a nationwide list of public displays is part of a joint ERMA New Zealand, Fire Service, Police and Ministry for the Environment initiative promoting safety this Guy Fawkes.

“The move follows last year's Guy Fawkes season that had the highest number of Fire Service call outs in ten years during the fireworks selling period before 5 November.

“ERMA New Zealand Chief Executive Rob Forlong said he believed it was the first time the agencies had joined to stress the fireworks safety message, and the first time a national list of public displays had been produced.

"’Anyone organising a public display in their community can list the event on www.guyfawkes2006.govt.nz by following the directions on the website,’ he said.

"’Along with the website, the group has jointly designed posters and flyers with the theme Let's make 2006 the safest Guy Fawkes ever..

"’Two different versions of the poster target youth, with one message saying, Aim fireworks to the stars and not at your mates and the other Think about others’. Mr Forlong said.

“As well as safety tips and other information, the website also contains Q and As, news releases, and ERMA New Zealand, Fire Service, Police, and Ministry for the Environment contact details and web links.

“Posters and brochures jointly produced by the agencies are being distributed by firefighters, Neighbourhood Support groups and through The Warehouse stores and Progressive Enterprises supermarkets.”

Let’s make this the safest Guy Fawkes ever.

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