It is true that trends and fashions often go round in circles. Through the 19th century right up to the 1990s, in early Autumn youngsters would stuff old clothes and make a ‘scarecrow’ dummy. It was called a ‘guy’ and it was unceremoniously dumped into a pushchair and pushed into the street where it was used to entice passers-by to hand over a few pennies using the plaintiff cry, “Penny for the guy?” Any money raised was put towards fireworks and on bonfire night, Guy Fawkes night, the guy would be burnt. ‘penny for the guy’ died out as attitudes changed around allowing youngsters to ask passing strangers for money, as well as the growing concerns of letting them sit on their own with a dummy on street corners! It coincided with a subtle shift in how Bonfire Night was celebrated.
In a few places around Britain it still continues in a traditional form, for example at Ottery St Mary in Devon where tar barrels are set on fire and rolled around. In fact some think rolling a massive tar barrel fully ablaze is not scary or impressive enough. Now the flaming barrels are hoisted on to people’s shoulders and carried along! Protective clothing is worn in a slight nod to Health and Safety!
Lewes, East Sussex claims to have the biggest bonfire celebrations in Britain, including torchlit processions with effigies of current figures of hatred. Watch out to see who they choose this year!
Generally Bonfire Night is not the national celebration it once was. Health and safety concerns, changes to the law regarding the sale of fireworks and the encouragement to attend organised events rather than something home grown, has meant that families are less inclined to hold their own firework parties. Instead, bonfires and firework displays have become closely controlled commercial events, quite often on the nearest weekend. The Hadleigh event is planned for 5th November at The Millfield with gates opening at 6.30pm. The adverts warn – “Strictly No sparklers allowed”. What?!!
Youngsters now seem more engaged with Halloween, or the American version that’s been imported of Trick or Treat. This is now even more commercialised than Bonfire Night. A whole industry of costumes, props and make up has evolved supporting children of almost all ages, to dress up that evening. It is unknown precisely where and when the phrase “trick or treat” was coined, the custom had been firmly established in America by 1951, when trick-or-treating was depicted in the Peanuts comic strip. In 1952, Disney produced a cartoon called “Trick or
Treat” featuring Donald Duck and his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie.
And the trends going round in circles? Well, having dressed up, applied the scariest make up possible, grabbed a torch and a bag for hoped for ill-gotten gains, the children set off and wander the local streets and knock on people’s doors demanding, “Trick or treat?”. Instead of a few pence for the effort of making a guy, they get a few sweets for the effort of dressing up and avoiding a menacing trick! It’s truly scary being accosted by a 3’ 6” witch, ghoul or skeleton hyper on a night long sweetie sugar rush!!