Every year in the UK many people celebrate the gunpowder plot of 1605 when Catholic conspirators including Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill King James I in protest at the way Catholics were treated by the authorities. The plot was foiled and the rebels were caught but the events continue to be commemorated on 5th November with bonfires, fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes. I’m not sure whether this is to commend Fawkes’ efforts to do away with the government, to celebrate his failure, or simply an excuse for people to set fire to things and make a whole lot of noise. Either way, it’s an intriguing human tradition full of contradictions as are many of your rituals. On the one hand bonfire night is a sociable affair that can bring together families, friends and strangers with the common purpose of getting to know each other and enjoying the festivities. On the other hand people have serious accidents as a result of fireworks and I’ve heard about some deliberate acts of cruelty to animals at this time.
I don’t mind sitting on my favourite window ledge watching the pyrotechnics flashing and banging in the sky as peoples’ money goes up in smoke! However not all cats are like me and this is a frightening and dangerous time for many pets that are scared and confused by the unnatural sights and thunderous sounds of fireworks. So please keep your pets in at night, stick to public firework displays that are safer and kinder to your neighbours rather than buying your own, and if you attend a bonfire don’t forget to protect the wild animals that make their home in the kindling having no idea that it will be set ablaze. If you enjoy being part of the celebrations, have fun and stay safe. If you don’t, hang in there, it’ll soon be over!
Bonfire Night is an annual event to commemorate the actions of Guy Fawkes on 5thNovember 1605. Its history begins on that date when a group of young men planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament to kill the King James I and Members of Parliament who were making life difficult for Catholics. The conspirators stashed 36 barrels of explosives in a cellar under the House of Lords but the plot was foiled. Guy Fawkes was in the cellar when the authorities arrested them and he and his accomplices were rather unpleasantly executed.
Celebrating the fact that the king had survived the attempt on his life, people lit bonfires around London, and soon the observance of the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605 became legally enforced across the country. It was compulsory to celebrate the thwarted plot until 1859 and throughout Britian today people commemorate the capture of Guy Fawkes with bonfires and fireworks and by burning an effigy of Guy.
It seems like a bizarre tradition to me, but it is perplexingly popular, despite being expensive and arguably commercially driven. Calls to firefighting services often triple on Bonfire Night and one study showed an increase in the concentration of toxic chemicals (in particular dioxin and furan, in case you’re wondering) in the air after Bonfire Night celebrations. It is important to remember that fireworks are enjoyed by some people but can be a source of anxiety for others and for animals too. Most animals fear the unusual sounds and would prefer to be indoors where the booming is muffled and they can hide somewhere like under some bedding or behind the sofa. Cats and dogs and small mammals should be kept in a safe and secure environment because the racket of fireworks can spook them and make them run off. It’s also best to ignore an animal that’s fretting (unless of course they’re hurting themselves) because their fearful state can cause them to react unexpectedly. Some thoughtful humans have put law in place to protect us animals and it is illegal for anyone under 18 to possess a firework in a public place or to cause any unnecessary suffering to a captive or domestic animal.
John attended the local scout group’s fireworks display recently which had been postponed from the week before due to inclement weather conditions. They put on a good show, safely and responsibly, and the families in attendance appeared to enjoy the hullabaloo of the pops and whistles and the dramatic effects of the crackling comets and glittering stars. John said the children were waving their sparklers and everyone was gazing in awe at the dazzling shapes and showers of endless colour variations. Unlike many of my feline friends, I’m strangely curious about the banging noise of fireworks and I like to follow the trajectory of the brightly coloured lights. But John took these pretty pictures while I stayed at home, sitting on the window-sill watching the vivid hues of colour fizz and sizzle across the night sky.