It’s fireworks time again, and this year the day when it’s all supposed to happen – November 5 – falls conveniently on a Saturday, when most folk have the opportunity to attend a display.
But does anybody remember, remember what it’s all supposed to be about?
Pictures of Guy Fawkes (a 17th century terrorist) used to be everywhere at this time of year, and kids with crude effigies of the man, constructed from old clothes and maybe a Hallowe’en mask, would hang about on street corners soliciting “penny for the Guy” so that they could buy their own fireworks.
Of course these days it’s illegal to sell children gunpowder products, along with many other things, although – as with cigarettes and booze – a determined minority always seem to manage to get hold of them.
However in the last few years Guido Fawkes himself – burned in effigy on countless bonfires in years gone by – has been quietly edged out of the script.
These days it’s “Bonfire Night” or “Fireworks Spectacular”, and no explanation is ever offered for why such an event should be taking place at all.
There are still a few exceptions, as in Lewes, down south, where they still loyally honour tradition by incinerating Mr Fawkes and, off-season, Alex Salmond and possibly other people they don’t approve of.
But the mantra “Remember, remember the 5th of November” now carries the implicit answer: “Why?”
We’ve done Hallowe’en, and nobody has had a royal baby for months – so what’s it all about?
American Hallowe’en (and its preposterous pumpkins) has usurped Scottish tradition, and we’ve now got a still highly popular annual fireworks fixture which doesn’t seem to be for anything.
Pop-up shops sell panzerschreck-style rockets big enough to take out a bus, and the police and fire brigade – who have to pick up the pieces when amateur efforts go wrong – issue seasonal warnings and advice.
But if the actual Guy Fawkes appeared at one of these do’s, complete with big hat (see picture) and pointy beard, nobody much under 60 would have a clue who he was.
Sadly, perhaps, very few people are hell bent on recalling events which happened more than four centuries ago.
That’s when Guy, or Guido, and some other folk, came up with a Cunning Plan to demolish England’s Parliament and with it Britain’s reigning monarch – James VI or Scotland and I of England (or “Slabbering Jamie” as he was known, somewhat unkindly, by his enemies).
The conspirators managed to smuggle barrels of gunpowder into the basement of Parliament and were looking forward to a colossal bang which would wipe out the Stuart King and a building full of politicians at one fell swoop.
To cut a long story short, they were found out. Guido was put to death in the most gruesome manner the 16th century authorities could devise, and everyone was ordered to celebrate James VI’s salvation ... or else.
James died eventually, and the fellow Stuart who succeeded him, Charles I, was beheaded by upstart Oliver Cromwell.
Civil war raged across the land and James I and VI was more or less forgotten in all the excitement – but the fireworks display (and the bonfire, and burning an effigy) remained as popular as ever.
It helped that Chinese goods had become all the rage, courtesy of enterprising merchants, and along with the fine bone china, novelty dogs and opium came high quality fireworks – a Chinese speciality.
Toffs vied with one another to put on bigger and better firework displays (for all sorts of things, such as royal marriages or successful battles overseas), and Guy Fawkes Night (which probably finally petered out some time in the 80’s), was the one everyone who was anyone had to get right.
These days burning people in effigy is frowned on, and nobody much cares that James VI and I survived to continue his favourite pursuit – torturing “confessions” out of alleged witches.
It could be argued that a seasonal firework display has become, by default, the official start of the festive season, and that no longer wanting to burn imaginary people on bonfires in celebration of obscure historic events is a positive development.
But the festive season ... what’s all that about again?