I do not care for Halloween – at least, not what is has now become. I have absolutely nothing against the horror and the paranormal (stories and creatures alike), but personally, I find the excessive amount of sweets and garish costumes somewhat disrespectful. Traditionally, Halloween is All Hallow’s Eve, the beginning of Hallowtide, which is the time to pray for and remember the souls who have not yet passed on from this world, and church bells were once rung to comfort the souls in purgatory – or, before Christianity, the British Celts believed that supernatural forces were at their strongest during this time, and with this belief, they set alight turnip lanterns (yep, that’s right: turnips – not pumpkins! 😉 ) or bonfires to ward away evil spirits. So, running around dressed as zombies, devils, ghosts, vampires, skeletons and what have you… I cannot help but feel as though that’s taunting and tormenting all those souls. But hey, that’s just me! I actually got back from the US today, where I had been staying with family for a fortnight. I witnessed an American Halloween for the first time in my life, and good gracious…
But this post is not to discuss my views on Halloween; this post is to discuss what comes after it.
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
gunpowder, treason and plot.
For I see no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot.
The moment Halloween is over and we welcome the first of the new month, all my thoughts are on Bonfire Night. I love Bonfire Night with all my heart, which is why I was so thrilled to be landing home from America on the very day, for America does not celebrate it. I would be absolutely mortified and utterly heartbroken if I did not spend Bonfire Night in the beautiful English countryside, in my homeland. It is so special to me. Bonfire night is my favourite time, favourite day, of the year; though, I’ve never really understood why. Shouldn’t I love Christmas the most, since it commemorates the birth of our Lord? Or, shouldn’t I love Easter the most, since it was the time of His resurrection, and isn’t that the whole point of Christianity? But no. My favourite time is Bonfire Night, which has no religious significance at all, but rather it is about the divide between Catholicism and Protestantism within the United Kingdom. For those less accustomed to this night, allow me to briefly explain the history behind it:
In England, 1605, there was the Gunpowder Plot. A group of Catholics planned to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of England’s Parliament – which just so happened to be the fifth of November – so as to assassinate the Protestant King James I in order to replace him with a Catholic monarch. One man in this group was called Guy Fawkes, and he was in charge of the gunpowder. But, the Gunpowder Plot failed, all because someone sent a letter. Guards found Guy Fawkes with the gunpowder in the Palace of Westminster in the early hours of the morning, and questioned and tortured him until he revealed his co-conspirators. They were hanged, drawn and quartered – such was the penalty for men convicted of high treason.
And so, Bonfire Night (as we now know it) was born, celebrated every year on the fifth of November for the failure of this plot blowing up King and Parliament. Fireworks, effigies, bonfires!
But I do not love Bonfire Night because of its history, nor because of what it symbolises (in fact, it saddens me, for it is a constant reminder of the divide between Catholics and Protestants: we are all Christians who primarily believe in exactly the same things, so why do the little differences matter?) I love Bonfire Night because of how it makes me feel.
November is a special month for me. Despite the howling winds and torrential rain, it is so very quiet. It is as though November is the month of bygone times, for if you listen closely, you can hear the soft voices of the past calling in that very wind, and if you concentrate, you can feel the cold touch of memories in the bitter chill. Though forlorn it may be, it hugs you… like a comforting embrace by the one you love when tears fall from your eyes. The chill is what makes you cry those tears so sombre and distant, yet at the same time, the embrace is so familiar and consoling. Serious. Silent. Still. The wind, it whispers, telling you to remember, remember…
Charge outside, head-on into frost, and fly into the bright night!
In an attempt to guard ourselves from the brutal frost in the air, from the icy mist coiling around us, we clothe ourselves in many layers and wrap our necks and heads in scarves or cover them with hats; though, it is an attempt so futile, for the chill seeps its way through to our bones regardless. We are clothed so heavily that the only flesh we have uncovered is the flesh of our faces, and the chill is cruel, biting our exposed skin raw. But it’s okay, because we laugh at the vast condensation of our breath and run around claiming to be the mightiest of all dragons from an age of myth and magic, spreading our wings in the night. How the cold fails to freeze our hearts, for the fiery heat within us is too great! Can you hear the excitement buzz around us? Can you hear the voices so keen? They are flying, and we will catch them in mid-air! They are eager, they are waiting. Let us show them a dragon’s glory while we still can! Golden and white light is left behind in our trails as we leap and jump and skip; the sparks disperse, only to burst once more, in an endless crackling hiss. We brighten the night with our dancing of light, and all the world is our stage while we puff our breath of smoke and fire. And hear them cheer! But what is this? Here arrives what all have been waiting for! Food. Food so piping hot, filling us with the warmth of the sun to conquer the frost once and for all. The smell of fresh bread, melting butter, stew and soup heartens us all, preparing us for the long, wondrous night that awaits. But don’t forget the tea, for the peculiar folk of these isles demand it! Let us cup the mugs with our frozen hands, and let the heat slowly ease through our gloves until it kisses our palms with its burning lips. And now we gather, standing side by side as one. The burning bonfire gleams before our eyes, flaring up so high, proud and magnificent. Can you feel the heat? Can you feel the chill? A battle of ice and fire erupts above us, around us, within us: who will win? The light from the flames erratically flick on our faces, so that even in such darkness I can see the flash of your teeth. Who knew two opposites could stir such life, such love? We are surrounded by laughter and song, inhaling the smoky air so strong and potent, but it dances and binds with the cold, filling our lungs and taking us away. WHOOSSSH! Surprise rumbles and rattles our bones, and we stare above, hearing the the roar in the sky as glorious colours scatter everywhere. And watch them slowly drift down, sprinkling like magical dust over the world. Where will the magic take us?
Where did the magic go?
The leaves have fallen, the world is drifting into its slumber, and the darkness beckons.
Can you hear the distant bangs? It sounds like my stone heart falling apart, with the heavy debris crashing down upon the cold, solid ground. I gaze into the sky, silently watching the colours flash before my eyes, and the sparks slowly fade away into nothingness. The lights so bright soon die. But then I hear another eerie scream, wailing its way so high, painting a line of orange fire through the darkness. Does it know it’s flying to its end? The wail cuts through me – so loud, so shrill – like bones scraping against a mass of ice, like a tortured soul trapped on the wrong side of the veil. The world’s icy hand grabs mine, and tries to make me dance in the frosty mist, but I cannot move; I simply sit by the fireside, letting my breath swirl around me, escaping from its prison within me, and leaving me hollow. The fire’s heat wraps its arms around me, holding me close, but all this does is remind me that I am alone. I look around. Where are you? The fireside is dark and cold without you. But it draws deep memories from me, so that they may live once more. Are you there, in the flames? Those flames crackle before me, and they flick tiny little sparks that drift away far into the night. They are free, and fly away. The smoke billows high, swirling, twirling, whirling in union with the flames, while it snaps and cracks its song. I did not know the flames could dance; I did not know the flames could sing. And that smoke, it ever lingers. It is on me, around me, in me. I inhale it deeply, breathing in the past awoken by the fire. It is a bitter smell, it chokes me, and it makes my eyes sting. Why must you hurt me so? Every noise is silence, and every silence is a noise; every light is darkness, and in all darkness there is light. So loud. So quiet. So dark. So light. Why am I alone? Won’t you come back to me? I know you’re there. But where? I reach out, try to hold you, but there is nothing to touch. The smoke recoils from me, the mist ever moves, and the flames burn me. No. You are gone, and you are not coming back. I will sit here all night. I will watch you dance in the memory of the sky, the light, the fire, the night. I will hear you sing in whistles, in screams, in whispers, in dreams. I will sit here, ever waiting, until I fall asleep and the darkness takes me. Sing me to sleep…
What do you see in the flames? What do you hear in the fireworks? Where does this night take you? Does it make you remember, remember…?