Remember, remember…

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.

Part Two: Take up the proposal running in the latest Global Bits (full PDF magazine, HTML version of article is here). They propose that 5 November become Parihaka Day:

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?

While we’re on the subject of Guy Fawkes – check out the trailer for V for Vendetta, based on one of my favourite comics :).

18 Comments Posted

  1. Having safely handled fireworks from an early age, including the now-banned rockets and crackers, I see no need for further regulation. I’d back a move to a wetter part of the year, but part of the joy of Guy Fawkes is the thousands of people who take to the streets together. The mood at Oriental bay was fantastic on Saturday – cheerful, lawless, chaotic and friendly. My mum cited it as the one time of the year when people act like people.

    What is needed is better teaching of safety in schools – not a stern lecture on how dangerous everything is, but a hands on, practical exercise where kids get taught to light things, throw things and handle gunpowder.

    As for the whingeing from the fire service, couldn’t we just add something to their employment contracts to the effect of “I expect there’ll be lots of work to do around November, which is what I get paid for, and won’t moan about it”?

  2. I, too, am against the banning of fireworks. In fact, I already believe we have gone too far. It really irritates me that the sale of fireworks must finish on Nov 5th. I am of German descent, and I like to celebrate New Year’s with a few fireworks. But unless I make a conscious effort (as I did this year) to buy my new year’s fireworks in the short period allowed for guy fawkes, I’m stuffed until next year! I believe firework sales should be reopened just before christmas to allow for this.

    As with anything there are the abusers. The simplest approach to these would be heftier penalties for abuse of fireworks. I mean, they’re almost as bad as firearms anyway. They should be treated accordingly.

    I would say that the vast majority of the abusers would be kids/teenagers. So the easiest way to help tackle the abuse is to make it illegal to buy or handle fireworks if you are under 18. Anyone over 18 should know better and face appropriate penalty for abuse.

  3. Despite not bothering with it these days, like Ben Wilson, I too have endless nostalgic memories of Guy Fawkes night. Always celebrated with the family next door. Sparklers were my passion. And all the ‘pretty’ ones. Was afraid of crackers. Never let them off myself. Often they were lit inside a closed dustbin (the old metal type). Bangbangbangbangbang great stuff! My strongest Guy Fawkes memory – being ‘chased’ by a jumping jack.

  4. How ’bout celebrating the winter solstice? It is generally a pretty stink time of year, some amusement then would not be an outrage.

    I’m not against the public holidays. Traditions that bring people together are good even if I don’t believe in God and don’t think Jesus was probably born on that particular day.

    And Christmas is a good time of year for non-christians, as is Easter. They’re the only people whose shops are open, so they get good business. And there is a glut of cheap stuff straight after them, of benefit to all – I know plenty of people who wait for Boxing Day sales, and buy their chocolate the day after Easter Monday.

    And I will oppose banning fireworks until I die. I have endless nostalgic memories about it as the most entertaining night of the year, apart from New Years. Taking that away from kids is mean, surely we could just find a better time for it. More fireworks education wouldn’t go amiss, either, perhaps fundable from a fireworks levy.

    Ooops, crackers banging in my garden, time to tell some kiddies off…..

    …..sorted. That’s all part of the fun – being chased off by grumpy old men. That’s all the regulation needed – it’s a pity people are too scared to tell kids of when they’re being silly these days.

  5. “Easter is very much symbolic of the cycle of life, death and rebirth. ”

    Yes it is, because it was completely ripped off from earlier pagan spring fertility rebirth festivals. Early christians understood that the people wouldn’t switch over to using their festivals, so they kept exactly the same festivals but re-branded them.

  6. Being a pro-fireworkist, I think all the antis should be thrown on the nearest bonfire.

    Sadly, due to the very issues Frog mentions, we dont have interesting fireworks any more, I love the thud of shells being launched from mortar tubes.

    Me, I see fireworks as darwinian…

  7. Studey wrote:
    oh and I would argue that all holidays, festivals and rituals are empty and meaningless except for those that connect us to nature and natural cycles,

    I reply:
    Um, walking dangerous tonight aren’t we? As a Christian, Easter is of incredible spiritual significance and very much symbolic of the cycle of life, death and rebirth. But I’ve long been a supporter of abolishing statutory public holidays, because I don’t see why people of other faiths – or no faith at all, come to that – should be prevented from going about their business, because of what boils down to an accident of history. (if New Zealand had been colonised by Chinese or Muslims our public holidays would be very, very different.)

  8. Frog:
    “Although it was initiated to mark the failure of a *terrorist* plot and the ensuing persecution of a religious minority”
    – actually, anarchist, as the effect desired was to remove the parliament and the Houses of Parliament in one fell swoop, thus rendering the country without government, ie: anarchist.

    As the plot was also anti-christian, a pagan anarchist state might have resulted if Guy Fawkes had been successful; just think, we wouldn’t have been subjected to images of superannuitant royal adulterers trying to conquer Manhattan – quick, more gunpowder, while there’s still time!

    To more pragmatic choices, I agree with psychokiwi, joy & stuey that a midwinter Beltane/Mataariki celebration involving fires etc would be much more sensible in our climate. Who wants to sit around a bonfire and melt in November?? Unless,of course, as Stuey mentioned, the aim was to get naked and pursue springtime fertility rites of celtic origin…..

    😀 katie

  9. Craig – Guy Fawkes *does* celebrate the “vicious reprisals” – that’s what the bonfire’s are about! In Lewes, Sussex (not normally a hotbed of sectarianism) they burn effigies of the Pope.

    But Guy Fawkes does celebrate another better English tradition – that of refusing to be told what to do. The last recorded reading of the Riot Act in the UK occurred after the local policeman in Chiddingfold, Surrey, arrested some schoolkids for setting off fireworks in the street.

  10. Shift a bonfire festival to mid-winter, say, winter solstice. This gives us the early dark night, and lessens the risk of fire.

    At this time of the year the fire risk is very serious, to land, wildlife, property, people, domestic animals and our fire service. Not a good look.

    Having our own festivals, at solstice and equinox seems to me to be worthy. Halloween I hate. But the earlier festival/rememberance has some merit. Personally I would ditch the religious festivals and go for a NZ version of the 4 seasons.

    I agree that a widespread lack of responsibility for one’s actions is becoming quite a problem. Sure, the young are exuberant, but the level to which they can take such action (fast cars, alcohol etc) is leading to death and destruction as the consequences. I do not have any smart answers as to how the citizens of this country can be encouraged or educated in to accepting personal responsibility. Joy.

  11. oh and I would argue that all holidays, festivals and rituals are empty and meaningless except for those that connect us to nature and natural cycles, i.e. pagan ones, (or Maori ones like Matariki). Hence the need for the Christian church to blatantly steal pagan festivals to become Easter and Christmas.

    So the matrix bros have made V for Vendetta – lets hope they haven’t ruined it like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

  12. Ah, yes, I wonder if we’re also going to be celebrating the vicious reprisals against Catholics that followed? I’m all for rituals but not when they’re effectively meaningless – divorced from any social, historical or (dare I say it) political context.

  13. “Here in the swamp fireworks aren’t an issue because it is far too damp for anything to catch alight”

    Never heard of swamp gas, frog?

  14. .. but I’d like to put it to everyone else opposing them that simple enjoyment, ie pleasure, actually does matter.

    I get simple enjoyment and pleasure on the open road when I’m able to drive fast – but I’m not allowed to do that anymore because of safety issues. Likewise, the youth of today is doing similar with fireworks – look at all the injuries and fire service callouts. Regulation can’t be far away.

    It all comes back to personal responsibility – something we are lacking more and more because of our socialist/welfare-state upbringing and the removal of teaching right and wrong in school.

    I do like the idea of moving it to Matariki – we need more New Zealand holidays, and getting dark early and being in the middle of winter is a much better time for fireworks.

  15. I must admit to being rather surprised that the Greens have come out pro fireworks. Leaving aside the social issues raised (much of which I agree with), I think the Greens need to take a step back and ask what are the environmental consequences of fireworks. It is not a pretty picture. Heavy metal pollution, air pollution, noise pollution (including hazardous noise levels with some fireworks), which all have consequences on flora and fauna – including us humans. Not to mention the production of fireworks in third-world sweatshops.
    A couple of links:

    All is perhaps not lost though… apparently Disney have developed “environmentally friendly” fireworks that use compressed air rather than blackpowder to achieve height (though presumably the sparks are still made with the same chemicals). Noise and pollution are reduced up to 60%.

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