Monday, November 06, 2006

The Last Boom?

Last night was Guy Fawkes Night in New Zealand, a time when adults get all giggly as they watch their personal fireworks explode in colourful bangs, pops and whistles. I admit it: I just don’t get the attraction.

Guy Fawkes Night observes the anniversary of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, in which a group of Catholics from the English Midlands tried to assassinate King James I and the Protestant aristocracy by blowing up the House of Lords during the state opening of Parliament.

The night is named after Guy Fawkes (pictured), the most famous co-conspirator,who was caught on November 5. After being tortured, Fawkes revealed the names of his co-conspirators. He was found guilty of treason, but at his execution he jumped from the gallows to snap his neck so that he wouldn’t be taken down still alive and drawn and quartered, as other conspirators had been. Nice, eh?

The night is now commemorated with fireworks, and sometimes bonfires are still lit on which an effigy of Guy Fawkes is burned. Mostly, though, it’s now just an excuse to blow up some fireworks.

At a nearby park last night, children squealed with delight as skyrockets screamed into the sky and exploded. The entire neighbourhood was filled with the smell of gunpowder carried by smoke resembling a light fog. At the waterfront, Auckland looked like a war was going on—smoke hanging over the city, small explosions and pops going off everywhere.

Before 10pm, it was all over. Some morning reports said that the night was mayhem unleashed, others said it was relatively uneventful. The truth, as it always does, no doubt lies somewhere in between.

But the NZ Fire Service plans on continuing its push for a total ban on personal fireworks (they can now be sold to persons 14 years and older for the ten days prior to November 5). It’s a move backed by the SPCA, which says fireworks frighten animals.

My own guess is that sooner or later, fireworks will be banned, and people will complain about “political correctness gone mad” again. The day, with its strong anti-Catholic origins, clearly has no relevance to modern
New Zealand. Is that reason enough to ban it? Of course not. The end, when it comes, will be because of something mundane like fire danger.

But when personal fireworks are gone, will anyone have any reason to “remember, remember the fifth of November”?

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