November 5th in Newfoundland (a.k.a. Bonfire Night) was always a big deal when I was younger. Us youngsters would spend weeks preparing; roaming the ridge in our rubber boots with tomahawks in hand, cutting up boughs that we dragged home and piled high, continually scouting the woods for the treasured "blassy" ones that would add some pizazz to our fires. It was a fierce competition with a huge team effort and we never missed an opportunity to brag to our friends about our stash.
There was always a community bonfire held in town, but up until my late teenage years, I always attended the cozier family bonfire that took place in the rocky, gravelly, no man's land between our yard and the bog. Since several generations of my extended family lived close by, there was always a crowd composed of aunts, uncles, and cousins, along with my grandmother, my immediate family, and sometimes a various assortment of great aunts and uncles as well as the neighbours who stopped by from time to time.
Our excitement would build for days until we could barely contain ourselves, counting the hours until we could bundle up in our winter gear and head out after supper at some point. There was usually a big fire for warmth, which the adults generally sat around, closely watching and helping us while having a few beers, and then there was a smaller one for us to take turns roasting wieners and marshmallows in, using spears cut from alder branches that one of my uncles would carve for us each year.
Invariably, as we talked and laughed, sang, and looked around at the smoke and flames of our neighbours' fires licking at the night sky, we all gradually ended up with a gooey mess of melted goodies and soot all over our faces and hands (adults included). Most often someone ate so much they got sick. But it was a grand ole time, nonetheless.
When I got older, it became a time to celebrate with my friends in different locations around town more-so than hanging out with my family, but the premise was still largely the same (minus the little kids and the grown-ups who would spoil our fun).
I first started to miss Bonfire Night during my university years, because often I stayed in St. John's, where you can't just light a fire wherever you want. However, I missed it more terribly the first couple of years I was away from The Rock and realized that it doesn't exist here or anywhere else in Canada or the rest of the world, for the most part.
Why would anyone still care enough to celebrate the downfall of some guy who tried to blow up the Parliament buildings in London back in the 1600's anyway, right? Well...no one, if you ask me. But it really has nothing to do with Guy Fawkes anymore. It is just another deep-rooted Newfoundland tradition, leftover from our days as a British colony, that gives us one more excuse to have a good time and enjoy our freedom with the people in our lives (and I have always found myself entranced by the dancing flames of a burning fire regardless - no matter where I am or who I am with). God, how I miss the Island sometimes.