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Rebranding Bonfire Night


The way I feel about the 5th of November has not changed much since I was a bairn. I couldn’t understand then why we celebrated someone being burned at the stake. I thought it both horrible and scary that adults appeared to revel in the re-enacting of a pretty horrific event. Perhaps I was an unusual child but I don’t think so. Even today I wouldn’t look at a ‘Guy’ burning on top of the fire.

This ‘festival’ takes place so near the date of when an old Celtic celebration took place that is easy to see why this date was probably picked. People had for generations built fires at this time of the year and would continue to do so anyway, and so it has proven. The festival was quite literally rebranded.

Samhain when large fires were lit anyway, allowed me to come to terms with bonfire night. No doubt I was helped to this conclusion by my mum. Now I look at it as a night to chase away the dark, and a coming together of people who have celebrated since ancient times. A turning of the seasons, a nod to autumn, and a reminder that we will need heat and light to see us through winter. The last major event before Christmas. I ignore the ‘new branding of 1606’.

I understand I may have been an unusual child. This wasn’t the first time my mum had to come to my rescue. Imagine how she must have felt every time she sang Six a Song of Sixpence to us to have me burst out crying because a blackbird had pecked of someone’s nose. Cleverly she added on a final verse that include the heroics of Jenny Wren who popped the nose on again. Mothers can be amazing people.

In Blàs of the Highlands, there had to be some sort of nod to bonfire night. After all, I had events throughout the year how could I miss out on one so hugely celebrated by so many. I had to come up with a way that I could accept why the villages celebrated that night.

The answer was not that different from how I had learned to cope myself. I used it as a way of ending the celebrations that had been taking place since the 31st of October. A way of putting a full stop to partying. In Blàs it was used to commemorate the turning of the seasons. It was also an unmoveable feast. It didn’t matter if it fell on a Sunday or any other day of the week. November the 6th was the night they celebrated with not only fireworks but also a fire.

Of course, as the writer, I could change things to suit how I felt to a certain extent that still allowed for the villagers to have their say and stay within their setting and believes. You wouldn’t be surprised to learn therefore that a ‘Guy’ was never placed on top of a fire. I suppose you could say I did a little rebranding of my own.

Blàs inhabitants themselves added a new element to that night that I hadn’t anticipated when I started writing that chapter. I love it when characters move you in a direction you had not originally considered. It makes for a more believable story.

For me, since the initial festivals in Celtic times, this time of the year has gone through three further rebrandings. Starting with the Celts, then the government of 1606, the second one occurs with the shifting of my mind to deal with bonfire’s night, and thirdly the eventual rebranding of the festival that the Blàs community celebrates.

I wonder if we could start a movement to ‘rebrand’ bonfire night. Could we transform it and celebrate the seasonal change at this time of the year? Perhaps we could use it as a gathering together of the community, to honour our friends and family and celebrate with light and warmth. Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy Bonfire Night without the grim reminder of what was a plot against a King, and yet another conflict between religions?


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