The UK is full of celebrations. Dating back to millennia, it has amassed a wide variety of seasonal celebrations and events from across many different religions, cultures, and historic events. So, no matter whether you are staying in London or any other part of the country, there are many traditions and events for you to explore during your trip.
One such event is known as the Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night. Taking place on the 5th of November every year, this tradition is unique to the UK. With a long history dating back to early 17th century, it is one of the most exciting and unique events to take place in the country. Whether you are looking for a memorable night in the country or simply want to see a typical British way to celebrate, the Bonfire Night should be on your list.
What’s Bonfire Night About?
Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night is an event about a thwarted gunpowder plot to kill King James I and blow up the Parliament Houses during the Opening of the Parliament in 1605. It involved five main schemers, however, there were about thirteen people eventually involved in the plot. The group of conspirators resorted to this violent plan because they were fed up with the Catholic persecution in the country. However, the King was tipped off about their scheme and all members of the group were captured and killed.
Who Was Guy Fawkes?
Guy Fawkes was a member of the group mentioned above that was created to protest for the Catholic persecution that had taken place under Queen Elizabeth’s rule. On Queen Elizabeth’s death in 1603, Catholics hoped that her successor (King James I) would be more open-minded towards Catholicism since his mother was a Catholic. But this wasn’t the case and Catholics continued to face persecution.
Guy Fawkes was the most famous conspirator of the group of thirteen men that believed that violent action was required to respond to the Catholic persecution in the country. Also known as Guido Fawkes, the famous conspirator was in charge of getting the gunpowder barrels underneath the Parliament. His plan was to light those barrels up on November 5th.
History of Bonfire Night
As mentioned above, Bonfire Night is a failed assassination of King James I. It was an event that involved a group of Catholics planning to ignite gunpowder barrels underneath the House of Parliament while the king was in the building. The intent was to kill the king so that he can be replaced with a Catholic head of state, hence ensuring the end of Catholic persecution in the country.
With the history of Guy Fawkes fighting with the Catholic Spanish, who were the sworn enemies of England at the time, the discovery of him guarding the hidden cache of gunpowder barrels underneath the House of Parliament led to celebrations across the country. His execution was held in January while his co-conspirators were preceded days earlier by the order of the king. This allowed celebrations for the foiled plot as long as it caused no harm to revelers or any public damage.
For years, Guy Fawkes was the central point for anti-Catholic sentiment as well as the celebrations that upheld in UK and even spanned into the Victorian era. While Halloween is only five days earlier than Guy Fawkes Night, the Bonfire Night is still a staple of London and British culture to this very day.
How Significant is This British Celebration?
Guy Fawkes night is a significant British celebration around the world. It is celebrated with bonfire parties, parades, and fireworks, also known as Guy Fawkes fireworks. It’s a big night in England, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. Since it is such a British event, expats around the globe have also taken the party with them.
If the country has a large British community and settlement, chances are they will arrange some kind of party – even if it’s just among family and friends. However, this usually isn’t the case in Catholic countries, for obvious reason. While some celebrate the Bonfire Night in honor of a group of men that tried to stand up against the Parliament, it is originally still a celebration of catching those conspirators and saving the king’s life.
You can find parties in British parts of Canada as well as in South Africa. New Zealand also celebrates this event as a way of welcoming the coming summer. There have even been Bonfire Night parties in Istanbul, Turkey.
How is Guy Fawkes Night Celebrated?
Here’s how Guy Fawkes night is celebrated:
- Every year on the night of November 5th, huge bonfires are lit in the UK in order to burn the ‘Guy’, a scarecrow figure that is usually made of straw, stuffed paper, and old clothes.
- Fireworks are set off as a reminder of the cache of gunpowder hidden underneath the Parliament by the protestors. They are commonly referred to as Guy Fawkes fireworks.
- The bonfires are used to bake potatoes and cook soup for the crowds that come to watch the fireworks.
- Torchlit parades go on the roads leading to spectacular firework displays.
- Kids sometimes blacken their faces to resemble Guy Fawkes. Before the celebration day, some kids carry out homemade Guy Fawkes statues on the street and ask bystanders for ‘a penny for the Guy’. This money is then used to purchase fireworks for Guy Fawkes night.
How Relevant is Guy Fawkes to Modern November 5th Celebrations?
For those who are familiar with the Gunpowder Plot and the story of Guy Fawkes, the tradition of lighting fires is a signal of celebration for the king’s safety. For those who aren’t fully aware of this plot, November 5th is just a tradition that allows British people to celebrate with family and friends. In this sense, this event becomes less synonymous with a potentially violent and catastrophic act that would have been devastating to UK. Instead, it is a positive celebration in which loved ones get together and enjoy the illuminated skies full of fireworks.