Posted by: Catherine Weston | November 4, 2011

Remember Remember

Isn’t there something uniquely evocative about the combined smell of damp autumn leaves and gunpowder at this time of year for anyone who has grown up in Britain? Tomorrow night the sky above the park just up the road from our house will be ablaze with fireworks and a massive wicker sculpture (designed by local children in a competition) will be burned as a finale to the display. It’s a hugely popular event attended by thousands every year.

I went a couple of years ago with an Iranian student (among others).  She and I linked arms in the dark so as not to lose one another in the crowds and we bonded during the long cold wait for the fireworks to start – at least half an hour after the advertised time! Cultural events like this are a great opportunity to create occasions for internationals and locals to get together, so for the third year running (since we moved into this home) we’re hosting a meal after the fireworks.  Already we know around 20 international students who are coming!

But how do you explain, to an international audience, a custom which was once vehemently anti-Catholic and includes burning an effigy of a hate figure? Thankfully today those associations are mostly overlooked and the event has become an excuse to have some family-friendly firework fun. It’s an innocent celebration of the awful thing that never happened – domesticated, if you like, by the passage of the years. Still, I’ve always thought it worth looking into the origins of our customs thoughtfully, to see what connections we can make with important values and truths we might want to share with our international friends.

So when I tell the story of Guy Fawkes tomorrow night I will describe it as a story of what happens when religion and power politics become mixed, when there is oppression of a minority group, and what some desperate people will do when they lose all hope. Despite the story being 400 years old, it has a contemporary ring, doesn’t it? We’ll also take the opportunity to ask our guests tomorrow night if they think there’s a cause worth dying for … and briefly point them to the One we know who did.

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