Until today, I thought of Guy Fawkes Day (November 5th) as an English eccentricity, one of those quirky and rather charming mysteries, like the fact that one cannot eat marmalade at teatime. But as we go to the polls in the United States, I found myself thinking that this day (November 8th), will also be a day to remember, and for similar reasons.
Of all the tumultuous events that took place during the Jacobean era of English and Scottish history, November 5, 1605 remains the most notorious. On that date Guy Fawkes led a group of radical Catholics in the Gunpowder Plot, an attempt to rid England of its Protestant king and aristocracy by blowing up the Parliament at Westminster.
The plot was unsuccessful, but its annual celebration is so lively that for years after I moved back to the United States I would try to be in England for the bonfire party at Lettsom Gardens in Camberwell, my London neighbeighborhood.
During the preceding days, little boys were stationed outside the supermarket with a floppy scarecrow. “Penny for the Guy?” they’d ask, collecting money to buy firecrackers. Adults prepared by taking scrap wood and old furniture to bonfire piles in parks and open ground all over the country. On Bonfire Night, everyone gathered, the piles were lit, and the children would throw their Guys into the flames while we ate sausages and roast potatoes and gingerbread.
Today, we have an election that enables us, the American people, to avert disaster and choose a better path, to follow what Abraham Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. The world is watching. (If you need a distraction, keep busy by writing your own “The Eighth of November” lyrics, based on the English folk song "The Fifth of November." Anyone who submits a 2016 version will get a free copy of your chosen book from the This World of Ours series. I've included the original, anti-Catholic lyrics, which you may know from the movie V, below.)
Now, time to change into a pantsuit.
Karen CHRISTENSEN, CEO & Publisher
The Fifth of November (traditional English folk song)
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The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England's overthrow.
But, by God's providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James's sake!
If you won't give me one,
I'll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn'orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!