Bonfire Night Games and Facts

Published on: 31/10/21

My grandmother used to get very cross with any shops starting to display Christmas cards and decorations before Bonfire Night was over. While that fight’s long lost (it’s Christmas shopping from August now!), it’s a nice reminder that Bonfire Night- Guy Fawkes- is a really fun night that literally lights up a dark November, and is a good excuse to get the party going with a bang, whoosh and sparkle!

Remember, Remember…

We all know the rhyme and the names ‘Guy Fawkes’ and the ‘Gunpowder Plot’, but who remembers more detail than “something to do with blowing up the Houses of Parliament”? Here’s a quick résumé of a daringly explosive scheme.

The Gunpowder Plot was born out of harsh repression of the Catholic Faith by Protestant monarchs Queen Elizabeth I and James I, when Catholics could not legally celebrate Mass or be married according to their own rites, were fined for not attending Protestant services, and Catholic priests could literally be put to death.

Frustrated English Catholics organised several failed conspiracies and kidnap plots under both Elizabeth and James. In 1604, Robert Catesby led fellow Catholic dissidents Guy Fawkes, Tom Wintour, Jack Wright and Thomas Percy in a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder and reinstate a Catholic monarchy.

Under the plan, Fawkes would light a fuse on November 5, 1605, during the opening of a new session of Parliament, blowing James and the assembly sky-high. However, on October 26, an anonymous letter alerted the authorities to the existence of a plot. A search party found Fawkes skulking in his cellar around midnight on November 4, with matches in his pocket and 36 barrels of gunpowder stacked next to him. Soon all the conspirators were rounded up, tortured in the Tower of London and hanged, aside from four, including Catesby, who died in a shootout with English troops.

Grisly to Glorious

So how do we get from religious repression and political skulduggery to our own bright and spectacular celebrations? After the plot was revealed, Londoners began lighting celebratory bonfires, and in January 1606 an act of Parliament designated November 5 as a day of thanksgiving. By the 19th century Guy Fawkes Day had become a time to get together with friends and family, set off fireworks, light bonfires, attend parades and burn effigies of Fawkes, with children earning a few shillings by demanding a ‘penny for the Guy’.

It’s a tradition carried on to the present day, with large organised community and town bonfires and firework displays. The biggest celebrated Fifth November event in the world is held in the usually peaceful East Sussex town of Lewes. In fact, there are six separate Lewes Bonfire Societies, all combining to celebrate the Fifth across the whole town, with processions, traditions, costumes, bonfires, fireworks, and even flaming tar-barrels (health and safety takes the night off!). The Lewes Guy(s) have also become famous, portraying uncannily realistic cartoon versions of modern figures- usual politicians- who come to a toasty end.

Guy Fawkes himself, meanwhile, has undergone something of a makeover. Once known as a notorious traitor, he is now portrayed in some circles as a revolutionary hero, largely due to the 2005 film of 1980s graphic novel ‘V for Vendetta’, whose protagonist wore a Guy Fawkes mask while battling a future fascist government. Since then, Guy Fawkes masks have cropped up at many protests including Occupy and Extinction Rebellion. All this to the protests of historians, who point out that Guy Fawkes was just one of the flunkies, and it should really be ‘Robert Catesby Day’, the brains behind the scheme. A case of right- or wrong- place at definitely the wrong time!

A Real Banging Party

If you can’t make it to Lewes (be warned, due to popularity, local roads start being closed off from about midday!), there are lots of ways to celebrate Guy Fawkes and have a roaring Bonfire Night. The best way is to attend an organised event- remember, fire and explosives are dangerous! Let the experts handle it, and enjoy a relaxed watch- there’s also nothing like the “awws” and “aaahs” of experiencing a spectacular firework display in a crowd, benefitting from a much bigger budget than most of us could manage!

Sadly, with tight council budgets and of course ongoing Covid sensibilities, many municipal displays have been vastly reduced, or cancelled altogether. So it’s worth being organised, prepared to travel, and getting booked in good time, as most will be ticketed- no one will thank you for turning up on spec. A good alternative is to check out the Let’s Go Out listings- many attractions, from our great country houses, parks and theme parks to escape rooms, trampoline parks and outdoor centres organise their own exciting Guy Fawkes themed events and celebrations.

If you’re celebrating at home, stay safe, and be considerate- bonfire night is actually very disruptive for pets, wildlife, the elderly and nervous, not least when inconsiderate types set off fireworks on random nights before and afterwards. Sainsbury’s was the first of the major supermarkets to stop selling fireworks, and there are many seasonal alternatives, including glow sticks and light up spinning wands.

You can have great family fun creating homemade ‘Bonfire punch’, firework inspired food, toffee apples, and sizzling savoury snacks- the internet has fantastic suggestions. Play glow in the dark games, enjoying sparklers, or why not harness the brilliant technology we’re surrounded with these days and enjoy immersive 3D displays using a headset and the TV? Whatever you choose, make it a night to Remember, Remember!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

We have also put together a list of frequently asked questions at the link below, which include some Top Tips and Did you know information, which you can use to show off with your friends and family

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We hope that you have enjoyed reading our article called Bonfire Night Games and Facts and that you have found the information above include our FAQ page helpful in deciding on which venue you to choose for your Activities and Days Out

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