Here’s one British tradition that continues to burn brightly! When Guy Fawkes and his cronies conspired to blow up London’s Houses of Parliament in a failed bid to assassinate King James I, little did they know that they were providing the British people with a roaring legacy that has been celebrated every year since.
Celebrated nationally on November 5, Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night, has become one of the most fun evenings in the British calendar. Fireworks launch skyward from almost every address, while an effigy of Guy Fawkes burns on massive bonfires. It’s almost as if Guy himself – a Catholic extremist who sought to destroy the country’s Protestant elite – has become a national hero. But in fact Guy Fawkes Night celebrates the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot, which went down on November 5, 1605, concluding with Guy’s execution for treason.
(Image Paul Standby, public domain)
The burning effigy was originally the Pope, but political correctness stepped in two centuries later and poor old Guy found himself in the flames instead. Religion plays little part in the celebrations today, and Guy Fawkes is happily torched over the course of the evening by people of all denominations. The only exception is Guy’s former school, St Peter’s York, which has a bonfire but doesn’t believe in burning former pupils.
The combination of a pleasant bonfire to warm the chilly autumn air, fireworks like Roman Candles and hearty Bonfire Night food (jacket potatoes, toffee apples and bonfire toffee) make it a fun – if not slightly bizarre – celebration to be enjoyed by all. Back in the day, children would display their effigies, asking adults for a “penny for the Guy”. This practice has faded now, probably because young children are no longer allowed the buy fireworks with the money.