Remember, remember the Fifth of November; the gunpowder, treason and plot. Also, remember those Guy Fawkes masks made famous by V for Vendetta and now a symbol of anti-tyranny? Contrary to popular belief, celebrating Guy Fawkes Night (or Bonfire Night) does not traditionally involve us Brits marching to protest the government. Instead, we light things on fire and stand around burning effigies. Here’s the #BritishFamous reason we celebrate and the ways in which you can get involved.
A Spark Notes Version of Why We Celebrate
November 5 commemorates the defeat of the November 1605 Gunpowder Plot against the Protestant English Government and King James I.
A group of Roman Catholic activists, led by Robert Catesby and including Guy Fawkes (or Guido Fawkes), wanted to protest the repressive religious policies of King James’ and his Parliament. They hatched a plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament on the night that King James would open a new session of Parliament. Having rented a house close to the Houses of Parliament, they built a tunnel into the cellar of the House of Lords and smuggled in 36 barrels of gunpowder. An anonymous letter tipped off the authorities and a search party found Guy Fawkes – the explosives expert – waiting to blow up the barrels in the cellar. Fawkes was tortured until he gave up the names of his co-conspirators and they were all found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death by being hung, drawn and quartered.
Since 1606, Great Britain has celebrated the defeat of the plot and, to this day, the Yeomen of the Guard still search the Houses of Parliament (with lanterns) before the state opening to maintain tradition.
How to Celebrate
Our #BritishFamous celebrations range from waving sparklers in our back gardens to watching enormous firework displays light up skies across the country. The fireworks represent the explosives that were never used by the conspirators. There are also parades that see effigies called “guys” carried through the streets. The effigies often represent the original Guy Fawkes but there are also models of contemporary political figures. Children ask passers-by for “a penny for the guy,” before the effigies are burned on bonfires.
Flaming Tar Barrels of Ottery St. Mary, Devon
Don’t miss this centuries old tradition in which men, women and children set fire to tar-lined wooden barrels and run through the streets with them on their head. While the spectacle draws great crowds, there is still a wonderful sense of community particularly because, in many cases, generations of the same family will carry barrels. It’s not for the faint-hearted – there are no barriers or safety nets and the heat of the flames is intense – but it’s certainly a sight to behold.
After Dark, Sheffield
This year, on November 3, After Dark returns to Sheffield with a concert, bonfire, food stalls, a giant funfair and a huge fireworks display set to music.
Lewes, the bonfire capital of the world, is home to seven Bonfire Societies which each put on a magnificent procession and bonfire display. The societies (some of which date back to the 1800s) all parade through different areas of the town and each society represents a different group of “pioneers”. These pioneer fronts provide representation to historic or persecuted groups of people– for example, the Commercial Square Bonfire Society's pioneer front is Native Americans while the Cliffe Bonfire Society’s pioneer front is the Vikings. The festivities also commemorate soldiers from the World Wars as well as the 17 Lewes martyrs who were burned at the stake in the 16th century. The parades are an astonishing sight with burning signs, larger-than-life effigies atop giant floats, hundreds of performers and up to 80,000 spectators.
Posted in Art & Culture
Cover Photo: Fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night