Pause for Thought – a five minute read – Week 28

Leviticus 19 v 18

Bonfire Night

Well Bonfire Night 2020 came and went like a damp squib, in fact if it hadn’t been for one of my neighbours trying to demolish my greenhouse with a rather large rocket, I don’t think that I would have noticed that this bizarre tradition had actually taken place.

A few years ago my granddaughter had a Swedish pen friend staying with her over the November period, (do we still have pen friends?), She stayed with us throughout November consequently she had to experience our bonfire night extravaganza. We tend to forget that this festival is solely relevant to this country and totally alien to people from foreign lands. This was the case with Mona, (the pen friend from Sweden) so we had to try and explain why we not only set fire to piles of wood, polluting the atmosphere for a couple days, but we also make effigies of a historical terrorist and burn them as well. Add to this the fact that we then buy explosives and attempt to blow our gardens, (or our neighbour’s gardens) to bits and it’s not surprising it is difficult for our continental friend to grasp the reasoning.  I suspect that they do similar weird events in Sweden.

Although today’s bonfire celebrations have become rather grand affairs similar events in the late 1950s were equally as exciting to this 12 year old lad at the time.

Bonfire night actually started about two weeks before November 5th because that was the time that we started, ‘chumping’. Now ‘chumping’, involved scouring the neighbourhood for bonfire material. It meant going out after school and on Saturdays collecting anything that people didn’t want anymore and were willing to donate it to the bonfire to be burnt.  This could be tree pruning, old fences and other wooden items, but also included settees, chairs and even mattresses. Environmental pollution didn’t come into it in those days. All the bonfire fodder was collected and stored in our back yards, and in our case, covered with an old tarpaulin off the back of old army truck.

The road at the front of our terrace houses was unmade and at one point just past our house it became quite wide, so this was the perfect spot to build our communal bonfire. All the dads would build the bonfire the night before and someone would have the responsibility of lighting it when it started to get dark on the night. There was always an issue as to who made the Guy Fawkes to go on the top of the fire. Some years we would half a dozen Guys but it didn’t seem to matter they all went up in flames.

In the eyes of a twelve year old lad the fire looked to be enormous and definitely bigger than last year, in fact it was the biggest we had ever done, until next year. As the fire became established the flames would leap into the night sky and sparks would fly in all directions. Mum would make sure that we stood a good distance away but all the dads seemed to be fire proof. I always wondered how the paint on the surrounding houses survived.

All the community from the terrace would take part in one way or another either chumping, fire building or providing food on the night. Someone would bring out some cups of soup, usually tomato; someone else would bring out a plate of parkin, (a Yorkshire version of sticky gingerbread), someone else would make toffee apples and bonfire toffee, and it would be shared around while we stood at a safe distance from the fire. The fish and chip shop on the end of the terrace did a great trade.

All the houses had a low stone wall to the front garden, at one time they had iron railings but they disappeared in the war effort, but what was left was a perfect stage for fireworks. As every house had their own display it looked resplendent, not big bang but more sparkle and fizz. The big bangs tended to appear later in the night when the older young people were still round the fire and we were indoors.

Bonfire or Guy Fawkes’ night is a British tradition with its roots in a historical event. The Bible also has festivals and celebrations which similarly have roots in tradition.

There are many festivals in the Jewish calendar that are very important to the Jews both historically and today. Not only do they allow for communities to gather together but they also link Jews to their past and the origin of their race.

Many of the festivals come from the word of God and can be found in the book of Leviticus, which contains the regulations for worship and religious ceremonies of the Jewish people in ancient Israel.

Jesus uses some of the words from Leviticus to explain the second new covenant that he brought to the world, Leviticus 19 v 18 says love your neighbour as you love yourself and Jesus added this to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and love your neighbour as you love yourself.

A few years ago I went back to Bradford and while I was there I visited my old house on Glendare Terrace.  It was still there and looked highly desirable. But the road to the front of the house had been made up and now was tarmac. Where does the bonfire go now?

Derek T.