I can’t imagine any other nation on earth celebrating failure to this extent except Great Britain, home of the self-deprecating, apologetic, “we’re really not very good” culture. What great failure do they celebrate? Bonfire Night (Nov. 5th, also known as Guy Fawkes Night), which is a national celebration of the failed overthrow of the government on the 5th of November, 1605. Guy Fawkes and a group of like-minded Catholic rebels, hoping to put a Catholic on the throne in place of the Protestant King James, attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament (the Gunpowder Plot) but were discovered before anything went “boom.”

Before the first match was lit, someone found out about the plot and wrote an anonymous letter to a member of Parliament,  and Fawkes was discovered guarding a stockpile of gunpowder in the Parliament cellars. He was arrested, tortured, and eventually hanged. Luckily for him, the hanging killed him before the disembowelling took place. (He was “hung, drawn, and quartered”–if you don’t know what that means, you probably don’t want to know.) He ratted out all of the co-conspirators in the plot, who met the same fate.

Oh, you do want to know what it means to be hung, drawn and quartered? Here’s the definition, from Wikipedia: “Convicts were fastened to a hurdle, or wooden panel, and drawn by horse to the place of execution, where they were hanged (almost to the point of death), emasculated, disembowelled, beheaded and quartered (chopped into four pieces).”

Did you notice the almost?

Fawkes made sure to jump from the gallows so that his neck broke and he wouldn’t have to witness his genitals being cut off and burned before his bowels and heart were removed. His bodily remains were distributed to various parts of England as an example of his treachery and as a tasty snack for wild animals.

Such a civilized place, this England.

And what a reason for a party! Fireworks are the order of the night, along with, in some places, the burning of an effigy. Traditionally, an effigy of Guy and the pope was burned,  although these days, if anyone burns an effigy, it’s either Guy Fawkes or some disgraced modern day public individual. The town of Edenbridge, in Kent, decided to burn an effigy of Lance Armstrong this year. In years past, they’ve burned effigies of  Margaret Thatcher, Cherie Blair and English footballer Wayne Rooney (don’t ask me why, I do not know).

It’s an odd little nation. And I just might be getting used to it.

Photo courtesy of morgueFile.

Only in England

4 thoughts on “Only in England

  • November 12, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    I have been looking for an explanation this good. I simply could not figure out what they were celebrating. It almost seemed like they were being sarcastic.

  • November 12, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    Guy Fawkes day was a big deal in Nkana, Zambia: Catherine Wheels, sparklers, firecrackers. My family, along with with a couple of friends would set kitchen chairs in our gravel driveway and have a jolly old time celebrating poor old Guy Fawkes’s screw-up. Funny thing, even though I knew the story in all its savagery, it never penetrated my awareness until much later. Great post expatrimummy (great name by the way).

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