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Sunday, 20 January 2013

Bonfire Night

Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes night, is a British celebration whose origins go back to the early 17th century. On November 5th 1605, Guy Fawkes was discovered hiding in a cellar beneath the Houses of Parliament in close proximity to 20 or more barrels of gunpowder, a length of slow match and a lantern. He was taken to the Tower of London where he was agonizingly tortured on the rack until he named his co-conspirators. Since then the British have celebrated this escape from the Houses of Parliament being blown up. On November 5th every year, they light up bonfires, place effigies of Guy Fawkes on the fire and combine this with a firework display.

The fireworks display at South Street, during Lewes Bonfire 2013

November 5th is also celebrated by the National Association of Ted Heath Burners.

The traditional cake eaten on Bonfire Night is Parkin cake, made from oatmeal, ginger, treacle and syrup.

Though the gunpowder plot happened in 1605, the now traditional “searching of the cellars” before each new session of parliament didn’t start until 1678.

Until 1806, the effigy burnt in England on November 5 was that of Pope Paul V who, after 1605, refused to allow Catholics to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown.

The word "bonfire" was originally "bone fire" - signifying the "bones" of the effigy burned.

November 5 is also known as "Ringing Night" (many torchlight processions held on the day feature bells being rung).

In the 1590s, Guy Fawkes served in the Spanish army.

Until 1959, it was illegal not to celebrate Bonfire Night in Britain.

The British tradition of lighting bonfires on November 5th not only commemorates the failure of the Gunpowder plot but also perpetuates the Celtic festival of Samain when fires were lit to ensure the Sun's return after winter. 

Other traditions celebrate Bonfire Night on different days. Some of the most popular instances include Northern Ireland's Eleventh Night, a precursor to The Twelfth. Also a similar bonfire tradition survives in parts of Scandinavia and is known as Walpurgis Night.


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