Remembrance Blog 1


My head is full to bursting with a trail of thoughts about ‘Remembrance’, so I am going to do a small series of blogs to explore one-by-one some of the themes connecting up in my brain, like a string of fairy lights.

As today is the fifth November, it seems fitting to begin with the old rhyme, drummed into us as children, calling us to remember…

Remember, remember, the 5th of November,

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason

Why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot…

As I’m sure you know, in Britain, folk build bonfires (to get rid of pruned trees and tidy up the twigs and dead leaves) and they have fireworks and outdoor celebrations with a mixture of autumn traditions of toffee apples, baked potatoes, mushy-peas, warm cider, and other festive goodies and fun. When I was a child, children would make a ‘Guy’ out of stuffed rags and wheel it around shouting ‘penny for the guy’ in order to get pennies to buy sparklers, jumping jacks or toffees. The ‘Guy’ would later be thrown on the bonfire and burned. (If it wasn’t too soggy!) This tradition has dwindled under the scrutiny of political correctness and health&safety and so doesn’t happen as much, to my knowledge.

First a little bit of history:

The plot was centred around a group of Roman Catholic revolutionaries furious at the persecution of their faith in England. The revolutionaries had hoped for better treatment from the new monarch James I after 45 years of hounding under the reign of Elizabeth I, and decided on drastic measures when things did not improve under his reign.

Warwickshire-born Catholic Robert Catesby and his friends planned to kill the King, his ministers and scores of nobles by blowing up the Palace of Westminster during the State Opening of Parliament on November 5, 1605.

The plotters rented a house nearby and managed to smuggle 36 barrels of gunpowder – around 2.5 tons – into a cellar under the palace ready to blow it sky high.

The explosives were discovered with hours to spare after an anonymous tip-off warning one peer to stay away.

To this day the cellars under the Houses of Parliament are ceremonially searched before the annual State Opening.

Perhaps it’s clear why we were urged to remember – to learn the ‘moral’ from the story (that rebellion against King and country has severe consequences and all that). But one can also see historically how courageous and desperate these ‘revolutionaries’ were to uphold their own religious freedom. There are two sides (at least) to every story and the terms ‘revolutionaries’, ‘rebels’, ‘reformers’, ‘pioneers’, etc – they always hold an historical significance and point to the beliefs and moral position of the ruling elite at any given time.

The month of November

November itself is a whole month dedicated to remembering – especially in church tradition – but also in general culture.

I’m going to share some of the historical significance behind some of the remaining familiar practices in our culture today.

In November the church traditionally remembers the ‘faithful departed’ and the Catholic Church priests says Masses for the dead in their parish all the month, following:

All Saints’ Day: November 1st (since 8th Century)

In the Catholic Church (and other churches) it is a Holy Day of Obligation to remember the saints and martyrs (known and unknown) on All Saints’ Day (All Hallows) – “all who have already reached the blessed land and point us on that path to reach the same destination” Pope John Paul II (2003). We remember these to inspire our own lives by their good example.

All Souls’ Day: November 2nd

Likewise, on All Souls’ Day, all the ‘faithfully departed’ are commemorated and prayers for the dead, especially family and friends, are said. Often folk visit the graves of relatives, place flowers and reflect on their connections and lives.

Hallow e’en on 31st Oct

Halloween was originally the vigil and evening of fasting and prayer before the feast day of All Saints/ All Hallows.

Traditionally folk would bake ‘soul-cakes’ (they had a cross on them, like hot-cross buns, as a sign of alms-giving) in preparation for the holy Day, and groups of poor people, often the children, would go door-to-door collecting ‘soul-cakes’ in exchange for offers to pray for the souls of the cake-giver’s family and friends. ‘Souling’ Christians would carry lanterns made of hollowed out turnips to represent the souls of the dead and jack-o’-lanterns to ward off evil spirits. Candles were also lit over these days to ‘guide the lost souls’ back to the light of Christ. Some dressed as known saints or in costumes to avoid recognition by evil spirits and homes and farmsteads were blessed.

It was a time of celebrating the end of the harvest and the start of winter, which is seen as the season of death.

Some of these old traditions carried remnants of older pagan traditions and a theology of purgatory and so were banned in the reformation.

The tradition of remembering the dead is to also learn the lessons – examples to follow and examples to learn from and avoid in our own lives. The Christian faith is one of hope in eternity and in heaven, because of Christ who conquered death. So remembering the dead is done with gratitude and hope.

Matthew 22:31 – 32

‘But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.’

Romans 14: 8

‘If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living’.


What of you?

Are any of these days of any historical or cultural or spiritual significance to you?

Do you like to learn about relatives who have gone before you and learn about your personal or local heritage?

Please share any of your favourite practices relating to the remembrance of Saints, martyrs and our forebears, known and unknown, personally or historically significant.


In the next post I will be considering Remembrance Day (in the UK) (Veterans Day in the US).