Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween/Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes

So many of you back in the US have asked about Halloween – does it exist here, and would I be celebrating it? The answer is, sort of and not really. Halloween is here, the stores sell spooky decorations and treats and the costume (fancy dress) stores seem to stock up, but Britons themselves don't quite know what to do with it all. Little kids dress up and trick-or-treat, but adults seem torn as to whether or not it's appropriate for them to don costumes as well. As my friend Mark put it, Halloween is seen as something for the children and an American import designed to encourage more senseless consumerism. Well then!

Since Halloween was on a Friday this year, bars and pubs had "Halloween parties" but nothing really big. I didn't see ghouls and ghosts roaming the streets; alas, I had a cold so the only thing I did was pass out on the couch watching Pan's Labyrinth. What is a much bigger deal here, however, is Guy Fawkes.

Guy Fawkes commemorates the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament, and is marked by Bonfire Night and the setting off of fireworks. Since Guy Fawkes is on November 5, a Wednesday, the city started setting off fireworks steadily all weekend. Each city council has their own celebration throughout the coming week (schedule here), and it culminates on Saturday 8 November with the Lord Mayor's procession and more fireworks on the Thames.

Last night I braved a day of steady pouring rain to visit SW11, an area of the city I've never been to, and watched the fireworks in Battersea Park. There was a bonfire in the middle of the park, concessions, and a half hour display of fireworks choreographed to music. Definitely worth the £5 that we paid to get in!

I find the British obsession with fireworks incredible; since moving here 6 months ago, I've seen no fewer than three separate fireworks displays. It is really very pretty, and quite charming to see all of the reserved, proper Brits standing ankle deep in mud to oooh and ahhh over exploding light and color.

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