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"Remember, Remember the Fifth of November" - Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night


Every year, on 5 November, communities throughout the UK celebrate Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire Night. Bonfire night events are organised in various communities in the days running up to and on 5 November and they vary in size.

They are usually held in parks or fields. It is often bitterly cold so everyone turns up dressed in woolly hats, gloves and scarves. There are usually food stalls serving hot food and drinks to help the public keep warm. There is always a wonderful atmosphere and the firework displays are spectacular.

As Bonfire Night this year falls on a wednesday, the skies will be brightly lit with fabulous fireworks.

Bonfire Night is an important event for the English as it commemorates the day the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was foiled.

409 years ago, thirteen young English Catholics, including Guy Fawkes, threatened to blow up the Houses of Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder. Why?

Throughout Queen Elizabeth 1’s reign the Catholics had been persecuted for their beliefs. When James 1 acceded to the throne, the Catholics hoped the situation would improve, but they were to be disappointed. In fact, James 1 introduced even more stringent laws against the Catholics making their lives intolerable.

This situation led the group of 13 young men headed by Robert Catesby to plot to kill the king and blow up the Houses of Parliament. The plot was simple. The next time that Parliament was opened by the King, they would blow it and him up with gunpowder. They bought the house next to Parliament that had a cellar which went under the Parliament building. The idea was to place 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellar and blow the building up.

Guy Fawkes was given the task of guarding the cellar and lighting the fuse when the time came. However, in the early hours of the morning of 5 November, the King’s soldiers seized him and the fuse was never lit. Fawkes was taken to the Tower of London where he was tortured and executed after confessing.

In celebration of his survival, King James ordered that the people of England light a bonfire on the night of 5 November.

Ever since then, 5 November has become known as Bonfire Night when huge bonfires are lit, elaborate firework displays are organised and effigies of Guy Fawkes are thrown onto the fire. Sometimes, children make effigies of the “Guy” and walk around the neighbourhood asking for “a Penny for the Guy”.

The Gunpowder Plot is so entrenched in British culture that it is immortalised in a children’s nursery rhyme:

“Remember, remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason, why gunpowder treason Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent To blow up king and parliament. Three score barrels were laid below To prove old England’s overthrow. By God’s mercy he was catch’d With a darkened lantern and burning match. So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring. Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king. And what shall we do with him? Burn him !

Shanthi Streat

Graduated in Politics and International Studies from the University of Southampton, UK in 1989. After 20 years in the world of Finance in such varied fields as life assurance, stockbroking, fund management, and wealth management, she decided to re-train as an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Trainer. She studied for the CELTA at International House, London in 2009 and has since been a freelance English Trainer both offline and online.

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