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Reader’s comment: The burning question


In response to Caroline ffiske: A Halloween Horror Story, therealguyfaux wrote:

Re: ‘Halloween’ vs ‘Bonfire Night’

Take it from a man who should know a thing or two in these matters (refer to my screen name!) Bonfire Night was an attempt by the more Puritan elements in the early 17th C to displace what they took to be pagan rituals, i.e. burning of scarecrows on the eve of the Feast of All Saints (itself a reworking of the ancient Celtic feast day Samhain).

Now, burning of scarecrows was always presumably harmless fun so long as basic safety precautions regarding open fires were adhered to. As of October 31st, the scarecrows would be surplus to requirements anyway since the harvest was in by that time.

Now, to remove any connection to RCism or Samhain, and to get the populace to burn their scarecrows on November 5th rather than days earlier, King James (through Act of Parliament) decrees that the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot be expressly commemorated every year with the burning of effigies of Guy Fawkes. This accomplishes both getting the people to engage in a ‘patriotic display’ against Popery, and it makes for them to ‘have their fun’ but in a way that totally, over time, it is thought, divorces it from its pagan roots.

So I suppose it could be argued that, strictly speaking, Bonfire Night is the relative ‘newbie’, no?

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