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May 5, 2008

Wikipedia: Guy Fawkes Night

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Guy Fawkes Night
Guy Fawkes Night
Also called Bonfire Night
Cracker Night
Fireworks Night
Observed by United Kingdom and some of its former colonies
Type Cultural, Rememberance
Significance Foiling of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill King James I, in London in 1605
Date Evening of the 5th of November
Observances Bonfies, Fireworks etc

Guy Fawkes Night (more commonly known as Bonfire Night, Cracker Night and sometimes Fireworks Night) is an annual celebration on the evening of the 5th of November. It celebrates the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot of the 5th of November 1605 in which a number of Roman Catholic conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London, England.

It is primarily marked in the United Kingdom where it was compulsory, by Royal Decree, to celebrate the deliverance of the King until 1859, but also in former British colonies including New Zealand, parts of Canada, and parts of the British Caribbean.[citation needed] Bonfire Night was also common in Australia until the 1980s[citation needed], but it was held on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June some states (eg New South Wales) and Nov 5th in others (eg Victoria). The event occurred in England some 102 years before the Act Of Union between England and Scotland. Festivities are centred around the use of fireworks and the lighting of bonfires.


Local customs

United Kingdom

A Guy Fawkes Night firework display

A Guy Fawkes Night firework display

A bonfire

A bonfire

In the United Kingdom, celebrations take place in towns and villages across the country in the form of both private and civic events. They involve fireworks displays and the building of bonfires on which “guys” are burnt. These “guys” are traditionally effigies of Guy Fawkes, the most famous of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators. Although the night is celebrated in York (Fawkes hometown) some there do not burn his effigy, most notably those from his old school.[1] Before the fifth, children traditionally use the “guys” to request a “penny for the guy” in order to raise funds with which to buy fireworks.

In the United Kingdom, there are several foods that are traditionally consumed on Guy Fawkes Night:

  • black treacle goods such as bonfire toffee[2] and parkin,[3]
  • toffee apples[4][5]
  • baked potatoes, which are wrapped in foil and cooked in the bonfire or its embers[6][7]
  • black peas with vinegar[8]

In the Black Country, it is a traditional night for eating groaty pudding.[citation needed]

In Sussex it is a major festival that centres on Lewes necessitating the closure of the town centre. The night also commemorates the Glorious Revolution and 17 local Protestant martyrs that were burnt at the stake during Marian Persecutions of the Catholic Queen Mary I[9]. The night begins with torchlight processions in costume by a number of local bonfire societies and culminates in six separate bonfires where effigies of Guy Fawkes, Pope Paul V and topical personalities are destroyed by firework and flame.

In Scotton, the locals do not burn effigies of Guy Fawkes due to the village’s connection to him. Up until recently, the Catholic school Stonyhurst College, would avoid any celebration, because of their connection to the other plotters (three of them went to the school).

In Ottery St Mary, in Devon, burning barrels of tar are carried through the streets:

“Ottery St. Mary is internationally renowned for its tar barrels, an old custom said to have originated in the 17th century, and which is held on November 5th each year. Each of Ottery’s central public houses sponsors a single barrel. In the weeks prior to the day of the event, November 5th, the barrels are soaked with tar. The barrels are lit outside each of the pubs in turn and once the flames begin to pour out, they are hoisted up onto local people’s backs and shoulders. The streets and alleys around the pubs are packed with people, all eager to feel the lick of the barrels flame. Seventeen Barrels all in all are lit over the course of the evening. In the afternoon and early evening there are women’s and boy’s barrels, but as the evening progresses the barrels get larger and by midnight they weigh at least 30 kilos. A great sense of camaraderie exists between the ‘Barrel Rollers’, despite the fact that they tussle constantly for supremacy of the barrel. In most cases, generations of the same family carry the barrels and take great pride in doing so. … Opinion differs as to the origin of this festival of fire, but the most widely accepted version is that it began as a pagan ritual that cleanses the streets of evil spirits.[10]

Guy Fawkes Night is less commonly celebrated in Northern Ireland, where autumn fireworks and bonfires are more commonly associated with Hallowe’en[11].


In Canada, Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Night is still celebrated in various places. The tradition was planted along with other cultural practices of British colonists in the 19th century[12].

The celebration, however, has been modified over two centuries since arriving from the United Kingdom as the following reveals:

“The night is also still celebrated in Nanaimo, British Columbia. The custom was brought over by English coal miners that came to Nanaimo in the mid 1800s. They built very tall bonfires — often 40 feet (12 metres) or taller, sometimes from “spare” railroad ties that they’d come across. Over the years in Nanaimo, by the 1960s the effigy of Guy Fawkes had disappeared, and so had the name — it’s just called “Bonfire Night” by the local children. Now (2006), the tradition has largely been lost altogether, and the few remaining celebrations that are held are mostly in private backyards.”[13]

On the Atlantic side of Canada, home of Britain’s oldest overseas colony, Newfoundland, Guy Fawkes bonfires are still burnt in many parts of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The celebrations are widespread enough to merit recent mention by the provincial Minister of Environment and Conservation:

Tom Osborne, Minister of Environment and Conservation, today asked the general public to keep safety and the environment in mind when holding bonfires this weekend to celebrate Guy Fawkes night. “Holding bonfires on Guy Fawkes night is still a tradition in many areas of our province and we are asking those participating in a bonfire this year to ensure they clean up their area, especially our beaches, when the festivities are over,” said Minister Osborne. “We should always be mindful of the importance of our environment and do our part to keep it clean at all times, including events like Guy Fawkes night.””[14]

While not necessarily widely celebrated elsewhere in Canada, the story of Guy Fawkes and the original Gunpowder Plot is still taught to many Canadian students. One amusing outcome of this was a mock version of a Guy Fawkes plot to blow up the Parliament of Canada in Ottawa on 6 November, 2006. The updated “plot” was recorded on YouTube.[15]

Elsewhere in Ontario, Guy Fawkes Night observances based on the original tradition have also become rather flexible as evident from the practices continued, loosely, at the University of Toronto’s, Trinity College:

“Remember, remember the third of November? Traditionally Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated on the fifth, but as we all know, Trinity College does not follow a normal set of traditions. Instead, this year’s festivities were held two days early so that they might fall more conveniently on a Thursday, coinciding with a themed debate from the Literary Institute. The Euchre Committee was well prepared with an effigy of Fawkes, complete with explosives, and mulled wine was served to all lookers-on. Pyrotechnics for all to enjoy!”[16]

Colonial America

This day was celebrated in the colonies and was called “Pope’s Day”. It was the high point of antipopery in New England. In the 1730’s or earlier Boston’s artisans commemorated the day with a parade and performances which mocked popery and the Catholic Stuart pretender. It was also the day when the youth and the lower class ruled. They went door to door collecting money from the affluent to finance feasting and drinking.[17]

Modern United States

The night has been celebrated for the past 11 years in the ocean community of Westerly in the state of Rhode Island, USA. The night is begun with a musical comedy, based on the events of Guy Fawkes’ capture written in the style of an english Monty Python comedy sketch. Every year it is slightly rewritten by a dedicated team of locals who also provide the acting and musical arrangements. Finally, the night is rounded out with a Guy Fawkes Bonfire, weather permitting. The event is always held on the beach, and in the fall the New England coastline is a bit windy and cold so the event is always different depending greatly on the weather and the number of people in the audience. [18]

Southern hemisphere

Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Night (and the weekend closest to it) is the main night for both amateur and official fireworks displays in the UK and New Zealand.

In Australia, Guy Fawkes Night is mostly known simply as Bonfire Night and bears little connection to its original purpose.[citation needed] It is also referred to as Cracker Night by some Australians and celebrated in a song of the same name by Australian singer, John Williamson. Celebration of Bonfire Night has died down due to the banning of fireworks in most states and territories to prevent their misuse.

Prior to this ban, Guy Fawkes Night in Australia was widely celebrated with many private, backyard fireworks lightings and larger communal bonfires and fireworks displays in public spaces.

Although one of the reasons for the ban on fireworks was the danger of bushfires during hot Novembers, since the ban, private (and therefore illegal) fireworks have become increasingly popular on New Years Eve, an even more dangerous time for bushfires.

The day was moved[when?] to a more suitable time of year due to the threat of bush fires in the dry Australian summer.

A pyrotechnic fountain.

A pyrotechnic fountain.

In New Zealand, the sale of fireworks has been increasingly regulated. Firecrackers have been banned since 1993, and rockets (or any firework where the firework itself flies) have been banned since 1994.[19] In 2007, the sale period for fireworks was reduced to the four days leading to Guy Fawkes Night, and the legal age to buy fireworks was raised from 14 to 18.[20] Despite those sales restrictions, there is actually no restriction on when one may light fireworks, only a restriction on when they may be sold.[21] Prime Minister Helen Clark is considering banning the sale of personal fireworks in New Zealand,[22] although 2007 was one of the “quietest on record” according to the NZ fire service.[23]

Guy Fawkes day was celebrated to some extent by South Africans of English descent, but the practice began dwindling by the 1960s. Personal fireworks were banned by the Apartheid-era government, which feared that fireworks could be converted into improvised explosive devices during periods of civil unrest. This development may have contributed to the decline of celebrations. However, South Africa’s expulsion from the Commonwealth and distancing from Britain in the 1960s is another likely factor.


In the Caribbean nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, this is a very exciting night in the town of Barrouallie, on the main island of Saint Vincent’s leeward side. The town’s field comes ablaze as people come to see all of the traditional pyrotechnics.

Traditional rhymes

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent
To blow up King and Parli’ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England’s overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

Traditionally the following verse was also sung, but it has fallen out of favour because of its content.

A penny loaf to feed the Pope
A farthing o’ cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we’ll say ol’ Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah hoorah!

A variant on the foregoing:

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot!
A stick or a stake for King James’ sake
Will you please to give us a faggot
If you can’t give us one, we’ll take two;
The better for us and the worse for you!

Another piece of popular doggerel:

Guy, guy, guy
Poke him in the eye,
Put him on the bonfire,
And there let him die[24].

In popular culture

  • Guy Fawkes Night is the pivotal date in the graphic novel V for Vendetta and its film adaptation.
  • Guy Fawkes Night was spoofed in “Raining Forks”, an episode in the fourth series of Maid Marian and Her Merry Men. A similar holiday, “High Forks Night”, is described in song as the night a plot to blow up the royal kitchen resulted in forks falling from the sky. The traditional rhyme is also spoofed, with Robin’s line “You know the poem: ‘Remember, remember, the twenty-seventh of April.'”
  • In the Daria episode “Depth Takes a Holiday”, Daria meets the physical incarnation of Guy Fawkes Day.
  • The game Hellgate: London has Guy Fawkes Night content, which will be available to subscribers from 5th of November to the 11th. Included in Guy Fawkes Week are items with flaming abilities, new instances that have a fiery theme, collectible candies such as Bonfire Toffee and Baked Potatoes, and many new recipes are added.[25]
  • Australian singer/songwriter John Williamson sings a song Cracker Night on his album Mallee Boy, about his memories of Guy Fawkes night when he was a child.[26]
  • John Lennon mentions the fifth of November as something to remember in his song “Remember”, in his Plastic Ono Band album.
  • In Imagine Me and You Guy Fawkes Night is seen celebrated.
  • In The Sandman #75, William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson are shown composing the first five lines of “Remember, remember the Fifth of November.” Shakespeare comments that if they teach it to a nearby urchin, he will teach it to his friends, and it will survive a hundred years, though Jonson doubts it.
  • The epigraph of “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot, the tradition is alluded to with the line ‘A penny for the Old Guy.’
  • Thomas Hardy opens his 1870s’ novel The Return of the Native with the folk of Egdon Heath celebrating the 5th of November.

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
Guy Fawkes Night
Wikinews has related news:
Guy Fawkes Night
  • Sussex Bonfire Societies
  • Guy Fawkes Carnival


  1. ^ H2G2 Entry on York, England, BBC,
  2. ^ Keating, Sheila (October 20, 2007), Where to get the best treacle toffee, Times Online,
  3. ^ Lepard, Dan (November 3, 2007), How to bake 100-year-old parkin, The Guardian,,,2203374,00.html
  4. ^ McEvedy, Allegra (October 31, 2007), The G2 weekly recipe: toffee apples and pears, The Guardian,,,2202178,00.html
  5. ^ {[cite web|url=|title=Tasty toffee apples|accessdate=2007-11-11|work=BBC – Hereford & Worcester]]}}
  6. ^ Tantalising recipes for your bonfire feast, BBC, 26 March 2004,
  7. ^ The top 10 Guy Fawkes links, Telegraph, 3/11/2007,
  8. ^ Beckett, Fiona (June 3, 2000), Bean feast, The Guardian,,,327387,00.html
  9. ^ Lewes Bonfire Night: An Explosive Event,
  10. ^ Ottery St Mary Tar Barrels
  11. ^ Donaldson, Kenny (November 1, 2007), “Remember Remember the 5th of November” says Donaldson,
  12. ^
  13. ^!openframeset&frame=Right&Src=/edible.nsf/pages/guyfawkes!opendocument/
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Nash, pg. 165
  18. ^
  19. ^ New Zealand is ready for a fireworks retail ban, 17 October 2006,
  20. ^ Sales rocketing despite tougher rules, Nov 2, 2007,
  21. ^ Not illegal to let off fireworks, TV NZ, Nov 8, 2005,
  22. ^ Thompson, Wayne (November 05, 2007), Fireworks sales facing total ban as PM talks tough, The New Zealand Herald,
  23. ^ Guy Fawkes quietest in decades, One News, Nov 6, 2007,
  24. ^!openframeset&frame=Right&Src=/edible.nsf/pages/guyfawkes!opendocument/
  25. ^ Server Coming Down, New Theme,
  26. ^
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