United Kingdom - Bonfire Night

Bonfire Night

This year: Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire Night is the celebration of the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot of November 5, 1605, when Guy Fawkes and a number of Catholic conspirators, inspired by him, tried to blow up the House of Parliament in London. Their plan was to kill James I, the King of England and his family together with the majority of English aristocracy.

This yearly event is celebrated on the evening of November, 5th. It seems most probable that people admire Fawkes' daring to blow up the Parliament, rather than the fact that his plot failed and he was caught. As this holiday celebration is related with fire, it is understood why festivities take place in the evening - they imply the use of fireworks and lighting of bonfires. At the very beginning the Guy Fawkes Day was celebrated only in United Kingdom, and then in the former British colonies and some regions of Canada.

In Sussex, a historic region in South East England, Guy Fawkes Day is a major festival that centers in Lewes, nowadays a tourist-orientated town. The town centre is closed during the festival and the night begins with costumed torchlight processions organized by local bonfire societies, responsible for the bonfire festivals in Sussex.

Traditionally, Guy Fawkes' night in England was celebrated by large communal bonfires and festivities, but gradually it passed to family bonfires and large public fireworks displays in most parts of the country. No one really knows why the tradition has remained so strong in Sussex, but it is the highlight of the year for many towns and villages of the region, not only including fires, but parades and festivals as well. At these events, the Bonfire Societies also collect money for local charities.

In Ottery St Mary, in Devon, there is an old tradition held on November 5th each year, which originated in the 17th century. Weeks before the Guy Fawkes' night, barrels are soaked with tar. Then, on November 5th, barrels are lit and when the fire begins to pour out, local men lift and carry them on their backs and shoulders. There are also women's and boy's barrels on the streets, but they are not as heavy as men's are, which by the midnight can weigh at least 30 kilos. And people are waiting on the streets to feel the hot touch of the barrels' flame. It is said that the burning barrels cleanse the streets of evil spirits. Usually, it is a great pride for the generations of the same family to carry the barrels during this event.

In some parts of England autumn fireworks and bonfires are commonly associated with Halloween. This is also the reason why the night of November 5th is less celebrated in Northern Ireland. In the English West Country there is an annual celebration, named the West Country Carnival, with parades of illuminated floats (or "carts") in each town. This celebration also dates back to the Gunpowder Plot of November 5, 1605, and has turned into a major regional festival.

Nowadays people make their own parties or participate at the big festivities, such as fireworks displays. They set off the fireworks, gather around the bonfire and eat. A tradition on this day and night is to eat specific food - black treacle goods, such as bonfire toffee, black peas with vinegar and toffee apples. Of course, nobody forgets baked potatoes, cooked right in the bonfire.

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