In New Zealand we celebrate Guy Fawkes on the same night as they do in England – November 5th. The event comes from a rather ingenious plot by Guy Fawkes to murder King James 1, and return the country to Catholicism under the rule of the very young princess Elizabeth, the King’s daughter. An anonymous tip-off led to the cellar of the House of Lords being searched, and thirty six barrels of gunpowder being discovered, enough to reduce the building to rubble and kill everyone inside.
We are celebrating the fact that a bunch of Protestants caught and executed a group of Catholics – and in fact, they were hung, not actually burnt at the stake. Why are we letting off fireworks, and burning an effigy of a man four hundred years later, and on the other side of the world – is this ‘celebration’ still relevant to modern New Zealand?
In a few days time, people will flock to bonfire celebrations, thousands of dollars worth of fireworks will go up in flames, and animals everywhere will be terrorised by the smoke and noise. Vets and the SPCA say many household pets suffer trauma and distress, and often for several days, as the celebrations are spread out. It is not unheard of for usually placid pet dogs to run away, becoming aggressive because they are in a state of fight or flight, and having to be euthanised. And it is not just a one night event as often crackers are bought and stored – they can be heard in some neighbourhoods for weeks after November the 5th.
Our hospital emergency departments brace themselves for this time of the year, as their clinics fill with revellers suffering sometimes horrific injuries. Last year two children suffered severe burns from fireworks – injuries that will impact on the rest of their lives.
Fire services are another organisation with cause to dread this day of the year, and the lead up to it. In 2016 there were 325 fireworks related blazes across the country, ranging from an idiot letting fireworks off under a house causing a house-fire, to a large fire in Wanaka involving trees and a fence.
The SPCA are calling for a ban on the sale of all fireworks, and for Guy Fawkes celebrations to be public events only. However, many councils including Auckland City Council are ‘recommending but not funding’ public displays. Auckland have banned fireworks in public spaces, therefore making the only option available for those wishing to celebrate to do it in the privacy of their own backyard. It’s a Catch-22 situation.
So – should we stop this dangerous, archaic and sectarian celebration, and replace it with something else that more reflects our New Zealand history?