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After surviving Halloween, we now celebrate Bonfire Night. I have often wondered what people from overseas think of this rather peculiar British custom. Fortunately to help to answer this question I have enlisted the help of Zimbabwe born Laureen.
Laureen who has lived on the Island for a decade, in words and pictures gives us her impressions of one of our most longstanding traditions.
To me, Bonfire Night signifies the advent of winter, along with the cold and darkness that comes with it. It brings a bit of cheer and a celebration that has not always been part of my life. Being from Zimbabwe, in Southern Africa, it was not an event I had celebrated before until I moved to London ten years ago. I knew about the ‘Gun Powder Plot’ after reading about it in a history book. As a former British colony, Zimbabwe adopted its fair share of British customs but Bonfire Night never made it to my part of the world. I had never heard of it, although I have recently learned it is celebrated in South Africa, but probably only by a minority.
In the first two years of my life in London, I did not go to any Bonfire Nights even though Tower Hamlets probably held them in the borough. I had no idea such a peculiar custom existed. I assumed the fireworks in early November were a continuation of overzealous Halloween celebrations because the two events take place within a few days of each other. One evening, while watching the BBC news, there was a piece about Bonfire Night celebrations all over the country with a special focus on the ones in East Sussex and Devon. The sight of men rolling barrels on fire seemed quite bizarre but was unlike anything I have ever seen before, coupled with the burning of an effigy. I put it on my list of things to do. I had no idea that most London boroughs have their own firework events to commemorate until I read about it in the East End Life newspaper. I have been a fan ever since.
I usually like to go alone, with my camera for company to capture the moment and share with friends all over the world. It is usually cold and sometimes a very miserable wet evening, but that does not put me off or any of the local families. Children seem to enjoy it the most. There is usually an atmosphere of expectation as everyone stands there wearing their warmest clothes to ward off the cold. Other friends from the southern hemisphere think I am mad to brave the cold for fireworks but I love the atmosphere. It brightens up an otherwise bleak period leading up to Christmas. The symbolic purpose of Bonfire Night is probably lost on some people but who cares when everyone acknowledges it is tradition! It has become a tradition for me too over the years.
Last year I watched the fireworks held on the Isle of Dogs at Millwall Park when the Council decided to spread them out. This year, I decided to enjoy the Blackheath fireworks from the bottom of the island at Island Gardens.