Where will you be watching Bonfire Night fireworks this year?
In the UK, there are two nights of the year when you’re guaranteed to be able to enjoy a fantastic fireworks display wherever you live in the country – New Year’s Eve and Bonfire Night. Nearly every country sets off fireworks to herald the New Year and most countries round the world have their special days that they celebrate with fireworks throughout the year. If you lived in France, for example, apart from New Year’s Eve, the other huge night for fireworks is on Bastille Day (on 14th July) to celebrate the French Revolution.
But New Year’s a while off, whereas Bonfire Night is here right now. All around the country there are lots of opportunities this weekend to meet up with friends at different public fireworks displays – they seem to get bigger every year. While the traditional night for fireworks is 5th November, most organised displays get pushed to the weekend, so you don’t have to go out on a ‘school night’ if you don’t want to.
Going to a big display is much easier than letting off fireworks in the back garden – and much safer too. A lot of displays also include fairground rides and performances from local bands, so there’s plenty of entertaining stuff to make it a great night out.
Why 5th November?
So what’s the story behind the tradition of Bonfire Night? Think back to your school history lessons and you may recall that Bonfire Night is linked to one of the most daring plots against the monarchy in the country’s history. On 5th November 1605, a Catholic group planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament and assassinate the Protestant king, James I. However, as one of the conspirators had sent word to a Catholic MP to warn him to stay away from Parliament that day, the plot was discovered and Guy Fawkes, one of the conspirators, was found guarding barrels of gunpowder below the Houses of Parliament.
Guy Fawkes met a grisly end for his treachery towards the monarchy, and bonfires were lit in 1605 to celebrate the king’s survival. Gradually the story of what had happened became known and Guy Fawkes became a symbol of Catholic extremism, giving the dominant Protestants plenty of propaganda to continue the repression of the Catholic faith. Bonfires were lit annually to commemorate the failure of the plot to kill the king, and fireworks became a part of the annual festival. By the nineteenth century it was also commonplace for bonfires to have an effigy of Guy Fawkes on the bonfire.
Do you view a bonfire as a purifying ritual, or an excuse for a party?
According to an article on TheCircle, a website that provides psychic reading services, there’s always been a tradition of lighting bonfires to welcome the winter around the Celtic festival of Samhain, which celebrated the power of darkness and its link to fertility and creativity. Lighting bonfires was viewed as a purifying act and sometimes sacrifices were made to pacify evil gods. With this tradition in mind, it’s easy to see why the bonfire was quickly accepted and adopted as a way to celebrate the failure of the Gunpowder Plot to kill the king.
Today, few of us really think about the real history behind Bonfire Night, although most bonfires do have a Guy placed on them. It’s more about enjoying a social gathering and having fun watching the fireworks, but it’s interesting to know the reason why the event came into existence.