Tomorrow is a significant Guy Fawkes – it is the 400th Anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot and the first to fall on a Saturday night since 1994. Those two facts may or may not explain why the annual gnashing of teeth over firework safety is particularly loud this year.
Here in the swamp fireworks aren’t an issue because it is far too damp for anything to catch alight, but that has never stopped me from having an opinion.
Firstly, I think New Zealand has nowhere near enough annual rituals, so while many of the (Pakeha) ones that we have got have suffered for being transplanted from the Northern Hemisphere (eg fake snow at Xmas, a festival of the dead, AKA Halloween, in spring etc), I’m not keen on losing what we’ve got. The positive social and cultural effect on an modern industrial society of having a full calender of participatory events can be seen in Japan.
Secondly, I would argue that Guy Fawkes in its present form serves a useful purpose of sorts. Although it was initiated to mark the failure of a terrorist plot and the ensuing persecution of a religious minority, it has become our one participatory annual ritual that is exhilerating and able to be shared by the entire family.
The problem, of course, non-ritual use of fireworks is resulting in more and more blazes all over the country, which is fuelling the call for a ban.
To which Rod says in The Press this morning:
“Are you going to ban cars because people have accidents? It gets to the point of the ridiculous. I’m more concerned about young drivers in charge of a one-tonne metal missile than kids letting off crackers.”
But then, in the same piece, Ron Mark says that although he’s opposed to a ban:
“I have no doubt that in time fireworks will be banned.”
The Fire Service are just doing their job in calling for fireworks to be banned, but I’d like to put it to everyone else opposing them that simple enjoyment, ie pleasure, actually does matter. And, as I say above, annual rituals are a good thing.
So here’s my compromise suggestion for maintaining the function that Guy Fawkes plays, fleshing out New Zealand’s ritual calendar while turning our collective backs on the negative values embedded in the original purpose of the event.
Part One: Move the annual firework ritual to a time of year that is damper and darker. How about letting the crackers off for Matariki, the Maori / Aotearoa New Year? (Works for Chinese New Year). Being in late June, it gets darker earlier so the kids can go to bed on time and it’s winter, so bush and scrub is less likely to be tinder dry.
How about celebrating something that really matters – the kinds of principles we would like our country to move forward with – non-violent conflict resolution and the desire for all a nation’s people to live in peace and harmony seems a little more significant and worthwhile
celebrating, don’t you think?
The Parihaka model of resolving disputes can point the way for all of us as a nation, speaking to the goodwill and aroha that can exist between Maori and Pakeha.
Nice idea, yeah?