Bonfire Night for beginners

Thursday 5th October, 2023

On the 5th of November in Great Britain it is Guy Fawkes night. Also known as Bonfire night or Fireworks night and this is my non stop tour to this celebration. Buckle up, it's going to be a ride.

First let's get started with why this is even a notable date. Prepare yourself - it gets gruesome. Basically, an interesting group of people hatched a terrible plot to blow up Parliament, more specifically, the House of Lords in 1605. Thankfully the plot was found out, due to an anonymous letter being sent, and the man himself, Guy Fawkes was caught whilst guarding the stores of gun powder. This lead to it being known as 'The Gunpowder Plot'. Fawkes was tortured until he confessed who his co-conspirators were and then they were all executed by being hung, drawn and quartered. (Hanging is the obvious bit, the drawn and quartered refers to being chopped up into four pieces. Yikes!) Now if many of you are horrified by the thought of this death, well then good, you should be, as it sounds truly awful. And secondly, we should all be even more horrified to learn that I remember being taught at the young age of seven (!) what that meant in school by my teacher. Why did I learn about this at such a devastatingly young and innocent age? I have no idea yet here I am, sharing it with you all too. Sharing is caring after all.

The Gunpowder plotters were not without motive. They were Catholic which in 1605 was a dangerous thing to be. This was a protestant England and at that time, you didn't get much choice in your religious stance, it was what you were told it was. Mr Fawkes and his mates were pinning their hopes on King James I stopping the oppression and dangers that Catholics faced daily. However sadly, James I was not kind nor tolerant and did nothing to help them, so they decided gunpowder was the best way to go. In killing them, they would put someone sympathetic to their plight on the throne. As we know, they didn't succeed and thus Bonfire Night was born.

This night is celebrated all over Britain with fireworks, made with gunpowder, and large bonfires. I'm not sure how frequently it happens now, but bonfires have been known to have a 'Guy' on top of them made out of sticks, straw, old clothes and paper to represent Mr Fawkes himself. Another harrowing memory from my childhood. If graphic execution wasn't enough, here come burning effigies of the man. Oh! And don't forget the sparklers, those things are cute and fun to play with, but don't forget to wear gloves and a bucket of water because they also burn.

My personal favourite traditions are the foods; toffee apples and bonfire toffee. Both delicious and also possible to be homemade if you're looking for a fun activity whilst waiting for the fireworks. In my humble opinion toffee apples should be available all year round. I just enjoy the fact that one, I can call it one of my five a day as it is in fact an apple, which is fruit. It counts! Two, it's covered in yummy sugar. Three, who doesn't love running the risk of a broken tooth or a jaw permanently glued together with toffee? So much risk and so much reward! Hot dogs and baked potatoes are other favourites. Local coffee shops have even been known to jump on the bonfire bandwagon, and sell bonfire spice coffee. One assumes this is an attempt to rival the prevailing pumpkin spice which appears at the same time of year. However as a partaker of both, I can agree that bonfire spice is deliciously smoky with yummy flavours of toffee. Big fan.

Another delightful childhood memory is this rhyme 'Remember, remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot; for there is a reason why gunpowder and treason should ne'er be forgot.' It was quite literal too that it should never be forgotten. 64 years ago, it was illegal not to celebrate the 5th November. Yep, that's right, the law was changed in 1959. Granted, I'm not sure forcing joy is something a law should do, yet I will accept any reason to celebrate and eat sweets.

If you're looking for an activity that doesn't involve fire or sugar highs, then this is the paragraph for you. Crafts are an essential for any holiday and popular crafts for Fireworks night often include a lot of glitter. Black paper, glue and glitter are all you need to make a fun fireworks filled scene. On a piece of black paper (to represent the night) paint streaks of glue in star shapes. Get as wild as you feel. Then sprinkle glitter on the glue, as many different colours as your heart desires. Finally gently tap the paper to remove the excess glitter and behold your handiwork. A sparkly firework scene. Pat yourself on the back for being the artist that you are.

Bloody history aside, I do look forward to Guy Fawkes night every year. The cosy feelings mixed with fun traditions and memories of being with family. There was also that one 5th November where my sister brought home a live goldfish from the fireworks show she went to… (that's a story for another day). These days we tend to watch the fireworks from our window and soon enough, I'll get to teach my children the same harrowing history and then placate them with toffee. So remember, remember or don't. Either way, enjoy your fireworks.

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