It must be something about the darkness of the late autumn and winter months which makes fireworks such as suitable companion of late year celebrations. There were certainly fireworks last weekend when I attended the 49th Annual Diwali Show of Crawley’s Gurjar Hindu Union, New Year Celebrations typically involve the launch of large numbers of fireworks and of course this week we have Guy Fawkes Night.
Every school child knows the origins of the celebration, of the plot to blow up both King and Parliament, of the leaked letter and Guy Fawkes’ discovery just a few hours before Westminster would have been reduced to rubble. Remember, remember the fifth of November. In a year which has seen another attack on Parliament, sadly costing the lives of six people, and multiple other acts of terrorism on the UK mainland, this year’s event perhaps serves as a more poignant reminder than most that while we have faced hatred and terror in the past, we’re still here.
Yes, we live in challenging times, times when we feel under threat but we’ve been here before. The attempt on Parliament by Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators didn’t come out of nowhere, it followed centuries of religiously motivated conflict between Protestants and Catholics both in England and across Europe. At home, such conflict involved some of the most gruesome tortures and executions imaginable and in Europe it produced wars on a continental scale. For those alive in England at the time this was the definitive political issue and the idea it could be resolved without the ultimate victory of one side or the other was ludicrous.
Yet, today we regularly see leaders of the world’s major faiths engaged in dialogue, there is peace at last in Northern Ireland and for decades predominantly-Protestant and predominantly-Catholic countries have formed a political and economic union in Europe together. For every generation there have been issues which have seemed to define their times, to threaten their way of life, perhaps their very existence and yet 411 years on from Guy Fawkes’ death Parliament still sits on the banks of the Thames.