Who's that Guy?

Fireworks night is fast approaching, but do you know the history behind Guy Fawkes? FSM communications co-ordinator Jai Breitnauer fills us in

I can remember as a child, my mum telling me a story about Guy Fawkes. She told me that in her neighbourhood in London during the 1950's, children would make 'Guys' out of old clothes with a stuffed pillow case for the face, and stand on their corner asking passers by for a 'penny for the Guy?' Then they would use the money to buy sweets on Guy Fawkes night. She told me how one year their mum wouldn't let them use any old clothes or pillow cases, so my my mum's older brother made my mum dress up as a Guy, painted her face and pushed her around the streets in a wheelbarrow!

I loved that story, but I still didn't know who this 'Guy' was. So I went to the library and asked a Librarian, who found me a children's book telling the story.

In 1605, in London, King James I was on the throne. It was customary at that time for the people of the country to take the faith of the king, and James was a protestant - a new version of a Christian. But many people were Catholic and were upset that they could no longer practice that older version of the Christian faith.

A man named Robert Catesby decided to take matters into his own hands. With a team of 13 men, they planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament where the King and the other heads of the country would be meeting. He trusted a man named Guy Fawkes to guard the 36 barrels of gunpowder the plotters had smuggled into the basement of the building. This was in fact 25 times more gunpowder than they actually needed to blow up the building, so if they had succeeded many local people would have been injured or killed.

On the 26th October, a man named Lord Monteagle received an anonymous letter tipping him off that something bad was going to happen on November 5th. On November 1st he showed this to King James who ordered the Houses of Parliament to be searched. Guy Fawkes was discovered and arrested. He was sentenced to death.

When the people of England heard about the foiled plot, many who supported the king lit bonfires around the country to celebrate the fact he was alive. The king also decreed that November 5th should be an annual day of celebration, and it is usually celebrated by lighting a bonfire and setting off fireworks.

This tradition was brought to New Zealand by the early settlers from Great Britain, but today for Kiwi's it has become more about the start of summer and an excuse for whanaau to come together.

Remember, celebrate this bonfire night safely. Go to an organised display, or make sure a sober adult sets off the fireworks in a safe place, with children standing well back. If you are going to use sparklers, wear gloves, and if you plan to light a bonfire please check for small nesting animals before you strike the match.