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Hallowe’en or Bonfire Night - which is best?

PUBLISHED: 15:23 29 October 2018 | UPDATED: 15:23 29 October 2018

Halloween and Bonfire night as one in Knodishall (2012). Picture: Ruby Chapman

Halloween and Bonfire night as one in Knodishall (2012). Picture: Ruby Chapman

(c) copyright

What excites children today? Guy Fawkes’ attempt to blow up parliament in 1605 or a night of ghosts and ghouls, tricks and treats?

Painting, c1823: Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot by Henry Perronet Briggs. Picture: Wikimedia CommonsPainting, c1823: Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot by Henry Perronet Briggs. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

October 31, as children across the country will know, is Hallowe’en.

For those that are even now raising an eyebrow because I have included the apostrophe in Hallowe’en, this was deliberate. It’s bad enough that All Hallow’s Eve has all but annihilated Bonfire Night, without unnecessarily disposing of its punctuation mark.

Many councils and community organisations in England still hold fireworks displays targeted to November 5:

Remember, remember the fifth of November,

A carved pumpkin for Hallowe'en. Picture: Lu GreerA carved pumpkin for Hallowe'en. Picture: Lu Greer

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

But while we may sort of remember the 5th of November, do we still recall the bit about gunpowder, treason and plot?

Things used to be unambiguous when I was a kid. Guy Fawkes was a thorough bad ‘un and that was that. In fact, of course, his actions were prompted by his faith and history is constantly revised to account for the actions of persecuted minorities.

Perhaps, today,we are more uncomfortable with our treatment of Guy Fawkes back in the 17th century. Having said that, they did set out to kill the king. He and his co-conspirators planned to assassinate the protestant King James I and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. The unfortunate Fawkes was put in charge of the gunpowder stockpiled under the Palace of Westminster. An anonymous letter alerted the authorities and, on November 5, Fawkes was found guarding the explosives. Questioned and tortured, he eventually confessed to his part in the plot and was hanged (the hanging broke his neck and he thus avoided the awful mutilations that would have followed).

Guy Fawkes goes up in flames on the bonfire at Earlham Park in 2012. Picture: Denise BradleyGuy Fawkes goes up in flames on the bonfire at Earlham Park in 2012. Picture: Denise Bradley

Subsequently, Guy Fawkes has been burnt on bonfires across England for more than 300 years.

But when was the last time a group of kids nicked their dad’s old overcoat to dress up their Guy, fashioned from a shirt and trousers stuffed with newspaper and topped by a pair of mum’s tights, similarly stuffed, plus a fiendish-looking plastic mask and a hat. The Guy would be lumped into a wheelbarrow and wheeled around the neighbourhood with the entreaty: “Penny for the Guy”.

The pennies, I imagine, would be used to purchase sparklers.

We invariably had a bonfire and fireworks in the back garden when I was a kid. The Catherine wheels would be nailed to the fence posts, the jumping jacks would come dangerously close to leaping up dad’s trouser leg and other fireworks would sometimes fail to ignite... then we would debate whether they were safe to approach. Afterwards, baked potatoes and sausages. Perfect.

Firework night at Felixstowe in 2012. Picture: Su AndersonFirework night at Felixstowe in 2012. Picture: Su Anderson

Compare that to Hallowe’en in 2018.

Parents accompany their children around the streets near their home in costume (that’s the children and the parents) Householders indicate their willingness to participate by displaying a lit pumpkin (jack o’lantern)in the front window. Then it’s open the front door to the Hallowe’en cry of: “Trick or treat!” and (invariably) producing a basket of Haribo or similar.

In my neighbourhood, the children pick over the contents of my basket until they happen across something they particularly like. This means they can be sorting through for a minute or two. Meanwhile the next party of trick or treaters is hovering the other side of the privet.

Here, courtesy of a well-known supermarket (begins with ‘T’), is a quick and fairly frugal Hallowe’en costing for a family of four (as of October 29):

Giant pumpkin £3

Small pillar candle £1

Haribo Scaremix Megabox £4 (or two for £7)

Giant honeycomb spider £4

Day of the Dead top hat £4

Liquid latex £1 (zombie skin for the use of)

Family make-up kit £3.50

Hooded skull mask £5

Vampire cape £4

Hooded alien mask £6

Sausages two packs of six £4

hot dog rolls two packs of six £1.40

That’s £40.90 in total which is not too bad but is probably bare minimum - none of the full costumes which tend to be £7 or considerably more.

Ah, but what about fireworks? Well, they are pretty expensive too although people do tend to go to public firework displays and thus have only to pay for a ticket and hot dogs back home.

When you tot it all up there isn’t much to choose between Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night... except tradition and Hallowe’en seems to be winning that contest.

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