As I write this article, screeches, bangs and cracks punctuate my train of thought, accompanied by luminous colours at the dark window. It’s the fifth of November, but it won’t be for much longer.
I’m not celebrating – it’s a Tuesday night and it’s raining – and, besides, I went to a bonfire party last Saturday. I didn’t celebrate Halloween. That was last Thursday and my boyfriend had an exam the next day; Halloween isn’t that big in New Zealand anyway.
Some people would disagree with me – I mean it isn’t that big compared to America, or even Britain. It is celebrated: the occasional shop or café puts up decorations, one or two kids come to your door in token outfits, there are a few fancy dress dos… nothing major. Costume places make a huge effort, of course, but during my twelve years in New Zealand I’ve found that a much bigger deal is made out of Guy Fawkes, or Bonfire Night.
Because, you know, kiwis love explosions.
Coming from Britain, Halloween in New Zealand has never seemed quite right to me in the first place. In the Northern Hemisphere, Halloween happens just as the world is about to be plunged into the darkness of winter; in the Southern Hemisphere, it happens as we’re entering summer. Nothing particularly spooky about that.
As for Bonfire Night, no one cares about its significance – it’s just an excuse to blow things up.
The sale of fireworks is illegal in New Zealand except for on the fifth of November itself and the three days preceding it, so you have to stock up in advance for your New Year celebrations. Also, rockets are banned. I found this fact disappointing when I first moved here, but so many people are irresponsible with fireworks that I’m now quite glad.
You always get teenagers sneaking fireworks into school and singeing their eyebrows. You always get drunken idiots holding them in their hands and firing them in any direction but the sky. And as for the people who aim them at animals… For some reason I find the thought of cruelty to animals worse than cruelty to other humans.
Thankfully, most people are responsible and all the bonfire celebrations I’ve been at have been good fun. Well… apart from this year’s. I’ve never feared for my life quite so much as at this particular bonfire party.
There were three distinct groups of people: high schoolers, students and the parents of the high schoolers and students. Surprisingly enough, we, the students, were being sensible young adults, not letting off any fireworks, though this was because there were already heaps of fireworks going off around us. The high schoolers – (I find it amusing to be grumbling about ‘immature teenagers’ when I was a teenager so very recently) – weren’t paying attention to where they were pointing the fireworks, every so often sending one in our direction, causing us to scatter. The problem was that there weren’t really any safe places to scatter to, as, on the other side of us, the parents were being almost as bad, shooting fireworks into the bush!
It’s been a particularly dry year this year, so it was lucky the undergrowth didn’t catch fire. Oh, and just on the other side of the patch of trees was the neighbours’ house. But they were on holiday, so it was all right. Of course.
What’s the point of shooting fireworks into the bush anyway? You can’t see them properly. It’s a waste.
Maybe it would explain a lot if I told you that this bonfire party took place in West Auckland.
I attended another bonfire in West Auckland several years ago. It was in a huge field that had an old caravan in it. Someone had a dog that was running madly around and around the bonfire. Then someone threw a stick onto the bonfire and the stupid dog followed it.
It was fine! Relax! There was a hose on hand. Its fur was just a bit frizzled.
The best Bonfire Night I ever had was when my mum, my dad, my sister and I went to our friends’ house in… well I’d better not tell you where. My parents are teachers, and all their friends are teachers, and I was a student at the high school where my parents and their friends taught. And this house we went to was next-door to the school.
Now, this group of us, which included several teachers of this high school and all their children, had a load of fireworks to set off, including ground bloom flowers, those ones that spin on the ground and you can battle them like tops. The garden, however, was a bit small, and there was nowhere to safely set the ground bloom flowers off. What we needed was a large, flat, concreted or tarmaced area – where better than the school quad?
So we sent the little fireworks spinning off across the quad and had a lot of fun.
Then cold, harsh light of Monday morning came. I was in assembly and a rather annoyed school principal was standing at the lectern.
“I would like the students responsible for the large scorch marks on the quad to do the honourable thing and come forward.”
I sat there stifling my laughter as I imagined the sheepish looks that must have been crossing particular teachers’ faces. No one came forward.
I suppose a good thing about Halloween and Bonfire Night in New Zealand is it’s a lot warmer being outside than it is in England. It’s probably safer for kids to go trick-or-treating too. There are also more open spaces to let off fireworks, although you do have to be careful about starting bush fires. There are many ‘FIRE DANGER TODAY’ signs around the rural areas of New Zealand, which have a moveable arrow indicating the current level of risk. Depending on the ‘fire season’ and the council, you may need a permit to light a bonfire, but you aren’t likely to be granted that permit if the risk is ‘HIGH’ or higher. Just be sensible.