I have just started reading a book on the history of this celebration which is the oldest secular event in Britain. Yet it celebrates something that didn’t happen, or at least the explosion and mass murder of the royal family and parliament never happened. It has far outlived other national events such as Waterloo Day, Oak Apple Day, Primrose day, and Remembrance Day has yet to reach its first century.
Why has it survived so long?
It is about a group of Catholics trying to assassinate a king, yet the king was a protestant. Under Queen Elizabeth, Catholics had had a tough time, so hopes were high that her successor James VI of Scotland/I of England would be more lenient, especially as his wife Queen Anne of Denmark, had converted to Catholicism, but his promises came to naught, so there was a huge sense of betrayal, made worse by Spain and other continentals failing to support the English.
So the attempted bombing was a desperate act at liberation. It was also an act by Catholics against protestants, proof that the pope could not be trusted,even though he had no knowledge of the plot.
The year after the event, the king ordered bonfires to be lit to celebrate his survival – in those days, gunpowder was imported from China, and was used for armaments, so only officials controlled supply. A few years on, they included an effigy of the pope, but it was not until the late 18th century that the guy was burnt, and thee have been many changes since then. Hastings has a huge celebration each year, but nobody knows why.
With the Americanisation of all things, Hallowe’en is said to be a threat to the annual event, but it has been under threat many times in its history, and who would want to stop making lots of explosions in the middle of winter?