What do Halloween, Guy Fawkes Day, and the Fourth of July have in common? Guilt by association.
Halloween, Oct. 31st and Guy Fawkes Day, Nov. 5th are less than a week apart. It has been written in a few books that Halloween and Guy Fawkes are one and the same. Well let’s look and see why they are not.
"Remember, Remember the 5th of November. Gunpowder, treason and plot." So goes the first stanza of the poem. Guy Fawkes was one of the plotters who tried to blow up the houses of Parliament with the King and Royal family in attendance. He was drawn, quartered, hung and then beheaded, all after he had gone through the ritual torture which was so common in those days and is a tradition carried on in many countries today. The legacy of the inquisition will continue to live on beyond us I fear. Guy and his fellow conspirators met a terrible fate that they brought upon themselves.
This all takes place after the death of Queen Elizabeth when Mary’s son James the First came to the throne. Spain actually cooled down their hatred of England and hoped that the Catholics in the country would be allowed to practice their religion without severe penalties, taxation, and harassment. The bloody question was, "If England is invaded by the Pope to who do you swear allegiance?" It was a simple question. You either said the King — or you were guilty of treason.
The fact that the Catholics had backed Spain and were always trying to get her to invade England put them in a more precarious position than the Puritans who despised everyone. The reign of Henry the 8th saw the beginning of all types of religious problems when he broke with Rome. England along with Henry was excommunicated.
James, unlike Elizabeth before him, was an easy going man with more than a bit of tolerance and an incredible amount of political savvy. James knew what was good for him was peace, and that was certainly good for the country.
The Catholics in England had enough of extra taxation and having to hide and hold their religious rites in secret and James relaxed much of that taxation. Better times were ahead. Enter Fawkes and the rest of the conspirators who tried to get Spain to invade, were unsuccessful and decided to blow the offending parties up, kidnap the princess, and return England to a Catholic country.
The plot went sour; actually, it was a lost cause right from the beginning as both the Pope and the Spanish and their allies had sent ambassadors to placate a King who they felt was the legitimate successor to the throne.
So far none of this has anything to do with Halloween, but now every year Guy Fawkes is burnt in effigy. Don’t ask me why they burn him, as his end was very different.
Adults often dressed Guy then take the mask off and place it on the dummy Guy and burn him. Early hand painted paper masks are very rare and valuable. Finding masks today that looks like the Guy is very difficult, as they were made to be burnt. Some of these were very elaborate.
So this is as close as we can get to Halloween? A mask is worn by some adults and bonfires that were popular to burn him in effigy. A nice evening out of fun for one and all. The children didn't get into costume.
The metamorphosis of this is fireworks being let off...which is more like our Fourth of July celebration, and both are fights for independence which we won, but Fawkes group lost. Fireworks and a political agenda but independence in America was very different from what Fawkes’s conspiratorial group were into.
What happened to Guy Fawkes and his twelve friends wasn’t pretty, and the Catholics as a group suffered even more for it in the end, which is very unfortunate because most of them didn’t have anything to do with the Gunpowder Plot. When they found out, they most heartily disapproved of the Regicide and killing of innocent people, but they suffered none the less.
In the early days, the 5th was a day of Thanksgiving for deliverance and the figure being burnt was not Guy Fawkes but the Pope. Guess some of the English resented being excommunicated for something in which they had no say. One of the interesting parts of the whole Fawkes conspiracy is two peripheral characters who walked a tightrope between the Catholics and the official religion. One was called Ben Johnson; the other Will Shakespeare.
You have probably heard of them!
So now that we have shown what little the three holidays have connected one to another, let’s talk about collecting fireworks paper ephemera.
The labels, advertisements, and postcards showing pyrotechnic displays of the fireworks themselves are extremely collectable. They are colourful and yes, they are exciting remembrances of our childhood.
Somehow even the oldest people watching a grand display genuflect. "OO, AHHH, Isn’t that lovely. How pretty, look at that one will you."
Guy Fawkes ephemera is very scarce, even those later items of the celebrating bonfire boys. There is one Sherlock Holmes story from one of the old radio programs which do an update mystery of the story. Well worth the hearing and is available on a cassette.
A penny for the Guy? If you were bold enough to stand in front of a shop and sing a song or quote a poem and you were cute enough, someone might have given you a penny for your efforts to buy a banger to make a bit of noise on the night. Nothing like our Halloween.
Halloween — I guess I am prejudice but to me, there isn’t anything as exciting as this holiday. Autumn colours tumbling about and falling from the trees, pumpkin patches of orange amidst the straw colour, Michaelmas daisies in lavender and purple, goldenrod as yellow as corn, Indian corn in various shades and colour. The change in nature alone is magical. The geese are honking and flying south; the robins and other migratory birds have already left.
It is said that at the turn of a century—or a millennium, more people become spiritually aware and with awareness we are more likely to see fairies and ghosts, and hear the animals speak. Such new age thinking is pretty old. There are so many books on ghosts and witches and psychic phenomena that one can build a library of the occult — or fun children’s books with neat stories and great illustrations. It is easy after reading some of these to look at a pumpkin patch and wish to metamorphose those fruits of the vine and turn them into the frolicsome friendly beings that cavort through the postcards of Tuck, Whitney, and Winch, or the crepe paper that Dennison or Reed manufactured.
This holiday has the potential to bring whole communities and families together to celebrate a harvest festival. Halloween is about parties. Parties mean Dennison who started the holiday decorations in a big way. Bogie books, crepe paper, napkins, tablecloths, are some of my favourite Halloween ephemera and collectables and though I realize some people turn up their nose at them, some collectors find these particularly attractive, especially if they are in their original packaging. Price does not necessarily mean something is good or bad as there are many items on the market that are very inexpensive that deserve to be much higher and there are items that deserve to sell for considerably less.
Halloween is a holiday for lovers and for the young at heart, while Guy Fawkes is a patriotic holiday for the British. They are both celebrated at night and bonfires are a common denominator but that is where the similarities end. Enjoy them both this year and remember to be careful burning all those leaves!