Well last week I wrote about Halloween, my favourite day of October. Today, less than a week later, it’s time for my favourite day of November – Bonfire Night.
I always love this week of the year, the way that, if you’re lucky, you get proper autumn days in between the disappointing end of summer and the proper, soul-sapping cold that hits not long afterwards. I love the fact that, in Britain at least, the two events run together, and nearly everyone enthusiastically celebrates two of the most random festivals that the calendar has to offer – a barely disguised pagan festival and a celebration of a thwarted seventeenth century terrorist attack. I love the fact that otherwise sensible people spend one weekend dressing up as devils followed by another weekend standing in the freezing cold watching fireworks, and, if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere really traditional, burning figures in effigy.
There’s something beautifully English about Bonfire Night. Mention fireworks in America, and everyone seems to think of Independence Day – barbeques, long summer days and celebration. In China they seem to be associated with New Year – again, a straightforward celebration. But mention fireworks to anyone in England and they’ll instantly think of 5th November. For all the colour, it’s an oddly dark occasion – let’s not forget that we’re celebrating the thwarting of a plot in which someone very nearly blew up the King and the entirety of parliament, and the fact that he was tortured to death for his pains.
I suppose it’s just cultural conditioning, but to me, it seems like the most fitting time of year for bonfires and fireworks. There’s something magical about a bonfire on a cold night, mulled wine or cider in hand, shivering slightly whilst gasping at the fireworks in the darkened sky. In my mind, it fits nearly with Halloween for reasons beyond mere temporal proximity – the idea of fires as the days get colder and the nights longer seems oddly ancient, redolent of an attempt to keep evil spirits away.
Anyway, moving from the paranormal and onto the posh, today I put these rather spooky thoughts aside and went to the most wonderful firework party I think I’ve ever attended. The future in-laws live in a house in central London with access to a garden square, and today, they were having a Guy Fawkes night celebration just for keyholders. In my experience, celebrating bonfire night is usually a choice between a few half-hearted fireworks in our own garden, or standing in a crowd of thousands in a public park, straining to see what was going on.
This was in the garden square, which is wooded, beautiful at the best of times, and tonight, lit with a combination of candles, flaming torches and fairylights. (I’ve been before. It might have mildly influence the clearing where the Cavaliers always hold their Summer Party). There were only about a hundred people, but it had the sort of rockets you usually only get at public events. I’m such a kid about fireworks, and these had my oohing and arhing like you wouldn’t believe. And to top it all off, there was absolutely delicious (and worryingly strong for a Monday) mulled wine and fab gourmet hotdogs, plus lots of adorable tiny rich children running around waving sparklers.