Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Guy Fawkes has lost its sparkle

Retailers may have made Halloween popular, but surely it's time to stop celebrating an old English grudge

Should we still celebrate Guy Fawkes? Photo / Thinkstock
Should we still celebrate Guy Fawkes? Photo / Thinkstock

It seems only yesterday that Halloween was an alien import from the United States, indulged in by a few alternative lifestylers at the bottom of my street who, for all I know, actually believed in its witchcraft origins.

Like the mid-winter Christmas of similar parentage, I expected it to quickly fizzle out.

I hadn't factored in the power of The Warehouse's marketing budget and the appeal of fake spider webs and free lollies.

In my part of town, kids dressing up and prowling the neighbourhood on October 31 is now the done thing.

And not just kids.

The face of the All Black-sized, late-30s hulk who sat next to me on the bus last Friday was painted bright red.

He had a rather aggressive "dare you to ask" look about him which suggested it was wiser to keep reading my book about Lord Auckland's ruinous 1840s invasion of Afghanistan.

He got off and strode past the drinkers at the shop-front pub, as though striding down Jervois Rd in jeans and jumper and a painted face was normal.

With the first of the elves and fairies beginning to flit about, maybe he was right.

In a city that has rapidly embraced a Chinese Lantern festival and the Indian Diwali festival of lights, I guess it's hard to question the validity of this interloper from the US.

On the other hand, I wouldn't shed a tear if tomorrow's Guy Fawkes celebrations were the last.

It's not the night itself that's the problem, though the Fire Brigade and the hospitals that have to deal with the mishaps might disagree; it's the months of nocturnal explosions that surround the actual day, as hoarded exploding devices are brought out to climax drunken barbecues and birthday celebrations.

Usually they wait until late at night, and all fireworks seem to be aimed at my roof.

This time round there's an additional hazard to fret about.

By New Year's Eve, Mayor Len's tinder-dry berms could be lying in wait for a stray rocket to fuel the Great Fire of Auckland.

Across the Tasman, Guy Fawkes Day and the selling of fireworks to the public was abandoned years ago.

The risk of fire in a bushfire-prone land was a prime reason.

That and the question of relevance.

In a new country, with a goodly proportion of citizens descended from Irish Catholic immigrants, it was thought time to abandon a 400-year-old English grudge against the participant in a Catholic plot to blow up the King and his parliamentarians.

On this side of the Tasman, a decade ago the Government restricted the public sale of fireworks to a four-day period, including November 5, for safety reasons.

The sale of double-happies and similar explosive devices, which as kids we used to throw at each other, was also banned.

Long gone, too, are kids standing at street corners with their home-made stuffed "guys" propped up in homemade trolleys, seeking a "penny for the guy" from passersby to add to their fireworks kitty.

Also missing are the neighbourhood bonfires - there used to be empty sections in most streets where demolition wood and old furniture and tree branches would be dragged a day or two before the big day.

There, the guys were burned and everyone's fireworks detonated. Now, all that remains is four days of frenzied commercial activity, followed by months of intermittent backyard detonations.

A few years back, Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia suggested we let poor old Guy Fawkes finally rest in peace and on November 5 observe a national day of quiet reflection "to honour peace, respect and non-violence".

It was that day in 1881 that 1600 settler troops stormed the Parihaka Pa in Taranaki and met with passive resistance from the 2000 residents.

Kiwis being Kiwis, blowing up millions of dollars of fireworks was always going to win out over a night of quiet reflection, and nothing more was heard of this.

Of course, we missed the obvious chance to bring fireworks day up to date back in the 1980s after the French saboteurs blew up the Greenpeace protest vessel Rainbow Warrior at the bottom of Queen St.

Replacing Mr Fawkes with a French frogman atop an annual bonfire would have really re-energised the day.

But 30 years on, let alone 400, the time has passed.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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