Bonfire night

By Polina Vezhan


Where is my London has asked people who live and work in London what they know about Guy Fawkes and Bonfire night celebration. This is what we could hear

Of course you can say that people who have no idea what exactly they celebrate on 5th of November are not British and that is why they can be excused for not knowing the history of United Kingdom but it’s not an excuse. We all going to enjoy the beauty of this outrageous night so please let’s have a look what this is all about and who we have thank for this tradition.

Who is Guy Fawkes?

Guy was born in England in 1570 but by the turn of the century, had spent several years fighting for Spain in the Netherlands, as well as participating in the Siege of Calais. His years of service earned him a reputation for his bravery and skill, especially with munitions. (Spain, a long-time rival of England, was staunchly Catholic and was often seen as an ally to English Catholics.) It was through his reputation and his pro-Catholic activities that he was brought to the attention of Thomas Wintour . It was Wintour who invited Fawkes into the circle of men that initially comprised The Gunpowder Plot .

Guy Fawkes (

Why we remember him

As a member of The Gunpowder Plot he attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill James I, the King (not a president!) of England, to protest Protestant rule. It was 1605 (you was right with the date man!).
This story has a background. When Queen Elizabeth 1st took the throne of England she made some laws against the Roman Catholics. Guy Fawkes was one of a small group of Catholics who felt that the government was treating Roman Catholics unfairly. They hoped that King James 1st would change the laws, but he didn’t.
Catholics had to practise their religion in secret. There were even fines for people who didn’t attend the Protestant church on Sunday or on holy days. James lst passed more laws against the Catholics when he became king.
A group of men led by Robert Catesby, plotted to kill King James and blow up the Houses of Parliament, the place where the laws that governed England were made.
The plot was simple – the next time Parliament was opened by King James l, they would blow up everyone there with gunpowder. The men bought a house next door to the parliament building. The house had a cellar which went under the parliament building. They planned to put gunpowder under the house and blow up parliament and the king.
Guy Fawkes was given the job to keep watch over the barrels of gunpowder and to light the fuse. On the morning of 5th November, soldiers discovered Guy hidden in the cellar and arrested him. The trail of gunpowder at his feet would never be lit. He was tortured and questioned about the other plotters. To start with he didn’t tell the soldiers anything about the plot. But, eventually he started to tell the truth truth.

Bonfire night

The tradition of Guy Fawkes-related bonfires actually began the very same year as the failed coup. The Plot was foiled in the night between the 4th and 5th of November 1605. Already on the 5th, agitated Londoners who knew little more than that their King had been saved, joyfully lit bonfires in thanksgiving. As years progressed, however, the ritual became more elaborate.
Soon, people began placing effigies onto bonfires, and fireworks were added to the celebrations. Effigies of Guy Fawkes, and sometimes those of the Pope, graced the pyres. Still today, some communities throw dummies of both Guy Fawkes and the Pope on the bonfire (and even those of a contemporary politician or two), although the gesture is seen by most as a quirky tradition, rather than an expression of hostility towards the Pope.

Bonfire Night (

Preparations for Bonfire Night celebrations include making a dummy of Guy Fawkes, which is called “the Guy”. Some children even keep up an old tradition of walking in the streets, carrying “the Guy” they have just made, and beg passersby for “a penny for the Guy.” The kids use the money to buy fireworks for the evening festivities.
On the night itself, Guy is placed on top of the bonfire, which is then set alight; and fireworks displays fill the sky.
The extent of the celebrations and the size of the bonfire varies from one community to the next. Lewes, in the South East of England, is famous for its Bonfire Night festivities and consistently attracts thousands of people each year to participate.
Bonfire Night is not only celebrated in Britain. The tradition crossed the oceans and established itself in the British colonies during the centuries. It was actively celebrated in New England as “Pope Day” as late as the 18th century. Today, November 5th bonfires still light up in far out places like New Zealand and Newfoundland in Canada.
And as the Bonfire night strike was finally called off it’s time to be out this weekend to enjoy the firework festivities

Polina Vezhan

Published in: on November 5, 2010 at 7:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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