Guy Fawkes Night parade
Guy Fawkes Night Peter Trimming cc-by-sa 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night - history and tradition kept alive

Guy Fawkes Night (Bonfire Night), 5th November

One of the biggest nights of the year in Britain is Guy Fawkes Night, otherwise called Bonfire Night or Fireworks Night. The annual event, observed on 5th November since 1605, commemorates the arrest of the Roman Catholic Guy Fawkes the evening before he and his co-conspirators had plotted to blow up Parliament and with it the Protestant King James I at the State Opening of Parliament ceremony - the so-called Gunpowder Plot. Fawkes was found guilty of treason and burned at the stake. The other plotters were either killed on discovery, or also captured and executed.

Throughout the country, towns and cities hold public events after dark consisting of a torchlit parade of a giant effigy of Guy Fawkes through the streets to a suitable ground where the effigy is placed on a huge bonfire and burned, accompanied by a spectacular fireworks show, in a nod to the explosives assembled under the parliament building. Lewes in Sussex holds the most elaborate celebrations. This small town in the south of England is home to several Bonfire Societies who compete with each other with separate parades and bonfires. In modern times, effigies at larger Bonfire Nights nationwide have often been those of unpopular politicians, recent examples including Boris Johnson, who later became Prime Minister, and Donald Trump, a few days before his presidential election victory in 2016.

I once found myself flying into London Heathrow on Fireworks Night, my window seat gave a spectacle hard to beat, with fireworks seen far and wide.

Other activities on this date include the making of a "Guy" by children, a small effigy of Guy Fawkes, pulled around the streets in a cart with money being demanded from people passing by, with the children issuing the familiar phrase "Penny for the Guy".

Parade on Guy Fawkes Night  (Peter Trimming / Lewes Guy Fawkes Night Celebrations (2) / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Parade on Guy Fawkes Night  (Peter Trimming / Lewes Guy Fawkes Night Celebrations (2) / CC BY-SA 2.0)