“Remember remember the fifth of November…” goes the old rhyme. It originates from around the time of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament and was meant to impress that treason would always be dealt with.
The story has it that Guy Fawkes was stopped before lighting the fuse under Parliament and that it was a plot by Catholics because of the Protestant leanings by the King and Parliament. As a result an annual commemoration of the event has been staged accompanied by fireworks to celebrate the great deliverance. Thus we have all the many firework displays for which our part of the country has become especially famous.
It is a strange ritual based upon the clash of Catholics and Protestants over four hundred years ago, which has no place in today’s era of sharing together in our common faith. The Reformation and Henry VIII’s rejection of the Roman Catholic Church’s authority came about because the Roman Catholic Church had lost its way somewhat, Protestant thinkers were successfully rebooting Christian faith and Henry wanted a new wife! The Gunpowder Plot was portrayed as a Roman Catholic plot, thus ensuring national support for the Protestant way. That’s the traditional story, but one which has lost grounds against the alternative of a secret Government plot to discredit the Roman Catholics. The annual firework celebrations have been successful propaganda which has fuelled the fires of Catholic opposition – if you’ll forgive the expression!
Lewes famously burns an effigy of the Pope albeit the historical figure around at the time. One year in recent memory the then Roman Catholic priest of Lewes complained and that year they burnt an effigy of him instead. It was something I knew which personally pained him. But Lewes has also made other more relevant statements by blowing up other modern day figures who there is a desire to make protest about, thus they have targeted people like Osama bin Laden and Putin.
Firework displays are emotional events with lots of people, noise and fire. Anyone who has been to Lewes or any of the other big celebrations cannot help but be drawn up into the atmosphere. We are emotional creatures and alongside the safety aspect of these displays thought also needs to be given to the messages being portrayed. Every other day of the year we live under the constraint of laws governing our behaviour restricting inflammatory and prejudicial attitudes.
My hope is that restraint is exercised in ensuring that there are no hidden agendas which might help to fuel any sort of prejudicial or hurtful intent. May God forbid! Let’s hope instead for simple, innocent – and safe - fun!