Bonfire Night FestivitiesWed 4th November 2020
Remember remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot... Every year, Britain commemorates Bonfire Night loudly and colourfully with an array of celebrations for the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
Every year on 5th November, the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, we remember Guy Fawkes. A member of a failed conspiracists group of provincial English Catholics who wanted to assassinate the Protestant King James I of England and VI of Scotland, Guy Fawkes was arrested while guarding the explosives the plotters had placed underneath the House of Lords.
After his arrest, and the arrest of the other members of the Plot, the King’s Council allowed the public to celebrate the attempt on his life, so allowed people to light bonfires all over London. Months later, the Observance of 5th November Act was enforced, making it an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot’s failure.
Bonfires have been lit every year since in celebration, and as the years have progressed, Bonfire Night rituals became even more elaborate.
Celebrations began with people 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. This tradition is seen less and less now.
Another British Bonfire Night tradition that has become lost over the years is Penny for the Guy. This tradition involved making a guy out of old rags, filling it with either paper or straw, and placing him in a pushchair or a wheelbarrow. Then, you would go around the town placing him in front of a shop or knock on neighbours doors, chanting “Penny For The Guy”.
The idea of this was to help to fund buying fireworks for the annual family or local community bonfire show. At the end of the evening, the “Guy” himself would then be put on the bonfire for everyone to watch burn.
Traditionally, the cake most associated with and eaten on Bonfire Night is Parkin Cake, a sticky cake containing a mix of oatmeal, ginger, treacle and syrup. It is increasingly being enjoyed throughout the winter months.
Fireworks displays are another tradition which has withstood the test of time, and in main town and cities, torch-lit processions are also popular. The torch-lit procession leads to where the bonfire and firework displays are.
While traditional Bonfire Night festivities could look different this year after the government tightened coronavirus rules, but there are still lots of ways to have fun this year. While many traditions have died off over time, keep the activities flowing at home by encouraging your children to build a “Guy” for a small home DIY event.