On this day in 1605, a man named Guy Fawkes was found in an undercroft, in a house belonging to John Whynniard, Keeper of the King's Wardrobe, with twenty barrels of gunpowder. His plan had been to blow up King James when he came to the House of Lords for the opening of Parliament and in England we still celebrate the failure of his plot by lighting bonfires, shooting off fireworks and eating toffee apples. But we’re also celebrating something much older; a comforting fact for me as I’ve never quite had a simple relationship with the burning of the ‘Guy’, or the celebration of Protestantism over Catholicism.
For one, like Fawkes, I come from an old Northern Catholic family, but more than that, we went to the same school: St Peter’s, in York. He was and remains our most famous old boy: an odd example for young boys trying to emulate our famous alumni.
At our school we didn’t burn a Guy on our bonfires, but we did light bonfires because it is the perfect way of fighting back the gathering gloom of northern climes. This festival makes sense because it’s a celebration much older than 1605, and owes its origins to a festival that marked the end of the Harvest, and the onset of winter.