The Autumn Festival—Halloween or Guy Fawkes Night?
How long has this commercial and kiddy festival of Hallowe’en been celebrated in the USA? It is celebrated, now, in the UK, but here it is an import from there! When I was a child 60 years ago, we had no Hallowe’en festival or tradition, although it was known historically as a night for ghosts and witches.
In the post War years, the big autumn festival we celebrated was, and still is, Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night on 5 November, associated with an attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament by alleged Catholic dissidents in the seventeenth century. “Guys”, effigies of Guy Fawkes are made and displayed on street corners or door to door to get gifts, usually small change, the days before Bonfire Night itself. Then they top off the bonfire with the effigies and all of it goes up in smoke accompanied by fireworks and traditional food like potatoes baked in the fire (originally), pork pie and peas, brandy snap, and parkin (a ginger oat cake).
So the period for displaying the Guy and begging for coin was about All Saints Day to Bonfire Night. However, the eve before 5 November was called Mischief Night, allegedly the night when Fawkes and his plotters were preparing their mischief, and on that night, children would arrange cruel tricks like tying dustbin lids to old and unpopular people’s doorknobs, knocking, then running off.
All of this is not ancient, hearking back only about 400 years, but it seems plain enough that the bonfire (bone fire) tradition is much older, and that is associated with the pagan autumn festival of Samhain. The Protestant Church was glad to direct the tradition from Pagan rites to an anti Catholic occasion, and so it has remained over here, until US films like “Halloween” brought the Halloween tradition from the US back into Britain, where it gradually gains strength, for kids, but has certainly not been a continuous festival. Guy Fawkes Night, with its bonfires and fireworks to scare off the spirits, is more that.