What is bonfire night

An explanation of the history behind bonfire night and how people celebrate it today.

In the UK, 5th November is what we call bonfire night, fireworks night, or Guy Fawkes Night. Although the actual celebration is on 5th November, there are firework displays for a couple of weeks before and after – often at the weekend, but not necessarily.

the history

The origins go back to 1605, when a group of activists tried to blow up the Palace of Westminster during the state opening of Parliament. They failed because their plot was discovered, and ever since then, people have been celebrating the fact that the Houses of Parliament and the King, who in those days had a lot more power, were not blown up.

Guy Fawkes from York, and his fellow conspirators were angry at King James I because of issues around freedom to practise their religion in the way they wanted to. They rented a house close to the houses of Parliament, Into which they managed to smuggle 36 barrels of gunpowder.

However, their plot didn’t go according to plan because an anonymous letter was sent to the 4th Barron Monteagle, warning him not to go to the House of Lords for the opening of Parliament. The letter was made public, suspicions were aroused, and the search began for anyone or anything that might be a danger to the King and the Houses Of Parliament.

Fawkes, the explosives expert, was discovered because he had been left in the cellar to light the fuse. He was caught, arrested, and the arrests of the rest of the group followed. All of the conspirators either died in attempts to avoid arrest, or they were tried, convicted and executed like Guy Fawkes.

What happens today?

Today the celebrations are not really about the events of 1605, but a tradition has grown up around fireworks and November 5th. Some people go to big, organised firework displays, and others have fireworks in their garden. As a child, I remember having sparklers, a kind of hand-held firework that throws off very bright sparks as it burns.

People also build bonfires with old garden waste such as branches, and cook food, such as potatoes, in the fire.

Straw models of Guy Fawkes, or other unpopular figures (often politicians), are burned on the fires. The only place that doesn’t celebrate bonfire night is Guy Fawkes’ old school, St. Peters in York, because they don’t believe it’s right to burn a statue of one of their former pupils.

People have a lot of fun, but it’s also a busy night for the fire brigade and ambulance service because there are accidents involving fireworks, or fires get out of control. It can also be a stressful time for animals, such as dogs and cats, who don’t like all the loud noises.

There is a bonfire night rhyme too:
Remember, remember, the fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot
We see no reason Why Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot ….

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Author: Kirsty Wolf

I am an English teacher and a language enthusiast who also speaks German and Romanian. I help motivated professionals to improve their English so that they can communicate confidently and authentically.

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