Saturday, November 04, 2006

Miggying, premature bonfires and a belated rapprochement

We're off to a bonfire tonight for a premature Guy Fawkes celebration. I'm a bit uneasy about going to a bonfire on anything other than the actual day. I don't like this holiday creep that seems to occur around dates in our traditional calendar. November 4th was always Mischief Night for me, an evening of licensed mayhem when as kids we could go out and wreak moderate havoc on the neighbours without fear of getting told off. Despite both my parents being quite strict in many ways, they had no problem with me going out on the evening of the 4th of November to chuck eggs at windows, lift garden gates off brackets and do a bit of knock door running. For one night only we could be beastly. They never wanted to know what we'd got up to but delighted in telling us about their own pranks as kids which were always much more inventive than anything me and my mates could come up with.
I've been reading Ronald Hutton's The Rise & Fall Of Merry England which explores the pattern of communal rituals in England and Wales in the period of 1400-1700, three centuries which saw dramatic religious and ideological change in the country. Lots of the older customs associated with the Catholic year and popular grassroots Christianity were attacked as irreligious by the coming Puritan establishment and as a consequence many died out. The degree to which that happened however can be overstated, many customs hung on or were transformed and given new meanings. The extent to which they survived was largely dependent on the degree of importance they fulfilled within the community.
Mischief Night or Miggy Night as it get's called in these parts, owes it's historical roots to the night when Guy Fawkes was plotting mischief below Parliament, prior to getting apprehended. But the principal of an evening of licensed community mayhem has much older roots and appears in cultures around the world. The charivaris and Lords Of Misrule of Medieval Europe were much more chaotic, threatening and sinister than any fifteen year old lurking around the streets of Yorkshire in his hoodie is today. But then the rules that governed the lives of our Medieval forebears were much stricter, the threat of communal censure much greater than it is in our more individualistic era. Licensed misbehaviour was a necessary safety valve in helping to prevent much more damaging unrest. So it makes sense that my ma and pa, now both in their 70s were able to push the miggy boat out further than we ever could. The daily strictures placed on their behaviour were greater than on mine.
A new British film opened last night from the makers of East is East and Shameless, called Mischief Night. Set in Leeds, it looks at the life in a run-down racially mixed neighbourhood as Mischief Night approaches. Whilst most people rumble along trying to make a future for themselves and their community, off in the background sits religious radicals on one hand and white extremists on the other who want to tear the whole thing apart. We're hoping to go see it tommorow evening, so we're back to front this year.
I heard an MP on the radio this morning questioning the environmental impact of Bonfire Night and asking if it was still right that we commemorated the "burning of Catholics". If that was what Bonfire Night was really about then he might have a point. In reality, the meaning of the festivities differ from place to place. We were always given quite a sympathetic portrayal of the plotters. They were responding to persecution in a foolhardy and dangerous way. There is something romantic about Fawkes, a York born adventurer and passionate believer in emancipation for his religious community. Speaking of which, the first member of the Royal Family to openly marry a Catholic since the Reformation is taking place today.
Enjoy your festivities whatever you're up to and check out the trailer for Mischief Night below. Like the boy in the trailer, my mum was also a dinner lady ;-)

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