Known as Pope’s Day here in Boston, it was a day of pub hopping and the burning of effigies of the Pope and all sorts of political enemies. I am pasting Nicola Cornick’s bit here:
Bonfire Night grew out of the celebrations that King James I had survived the attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 in the gunpowder plot. It was a festival that started immediately after the event – Londoners lit bonfires in the streets to celebrate the fact that the King’s life had been spared. The following year, 1606, The Observance of 5th November Act came into force and made November 5th a public holiday. Thanksgiving events up and down the country formalised the celebration with food and drink, music, artillery salutes and gunpowder.
One of the fascinating things about Guy Fawkes Night is that it changed and developed as a festival down the centuries. It has a complex history as an anti-catholic protest at times and also as a festival celebrating parliamentary government. During the early 19th century in particular the day was often an excuse for rioting and disorder. The Victorians tamed Bonfire Night and made it a focus for organised celebrations once more.
These days there is a danger that Bonfire Night, a fire festival that perhaps took on the guise of Samhain and in its time eclipsed Halloween, is in eclipse itself. But one thing about our traditions is their ability to change and adapt with time. Guy Fawkes isn’t beaten yet!
In 1776 George Washington had a situation on his hands. The bulk of his troops at Cambridge came from New England. They were deeply Protestant and had spent many years fighting the French in the backwoods and Canada. The General got wind of their traditions, which of course included burning a dummy in Pope’s robes. The problem was he had the Marylanders to keep happy. They were Catholic and fierce Patriots willing to die for Washington and the Cause.
Washington called the New Englanders into a conference and laid out the problem, probably very sternly. They came through and kept the celebrations under control. No lashes were needed and no one was offended.
Happy November 5.