Bonfire Night, also known in the UK as Guy Fawkes Night (or Guy Fawkes Day), ignites every November 5 to mark the failed 17th-century attempt to blow up Parliament and assassinate King James I. You can mark the occasion by lighting your own bonfire, going to a fireworks show, or learning more about the Gunpowder Plot.
Bonfire Night History
It’s a story of intrigue, betrayal and political assassination to rival anything on Netflix. In the UK, Bonfire Night commemorates a story of failure. All over the UK, people relive the night Guy Fawkes, Robert Catesby, and a small band of co-conspirators failed in their attempt to blow up the Parliament building and assassinate King James I in 1605.
What came to be known as the “Gunpowder Plot” was hatched out of an uncontrollable anger against the king for his growing intolerance against Catholics in response to the ever-expanding Church of England, headed by the king himself. Fawkes and Catesby were both ardent Catholics who felt that Catholicism could only be reinstated after armed struggle. So, the plot involved blowing up the Palace of Westminster on the opening day of Parliament when the king was in attendance.
The plot was eventually discovered when an unknown member of the conspiracy got cold feet and sent a letter to a member of Parliament, warning him away from the building that night. After a brief struggle, Fawkes and his group were taken into custody. On the very night of the failed plot, British citizens lit bonfires all over London in celebration. Fawkes and the co-conspirators were convicted of treason, which meant a slow, torturous death of being “drawn and quartered. ” (However, Guy Fawkes jumped to his death seconds before his execution.) After the failed coup, Parliament declared November 5 as a “day of thanksgiving” on its first observance in 1606 and it has since been commemorated as Bonfire Night.
In the UK most people attend large fireworks displays at Bonfire Night festivals. People also light their own bonfires and set off fireworks. No matter where you do it, Bonfire Night is a big deal in Great Britain.
Bonfire Night timeline
The Gunpowder Plot fails
Someone in Guy Fawkes' group sent a letter to a member of Parliament warning him to stay away from the Parliament building; this member then forwarded the letter to the King, saving his life in the process.
England proclaims an annual day of thanksgiving
Just one year after the failed Gunpowder Plot, Parliament passes the Observance of the "5th November Act" to commemorate the king and Parliament in the wake of a deadly assassination attempt.
- November 5, 1607
The first big Bonfire Night celebration occurs
Canterbury celebrates with over 100 pounds of gunpowder and 14 pounds of matches — adding food and drink to the party in later years.
Lewes famously celebrates Bonfire Night
At one point celebrations in the English town of Lewes resembled a riot. Eventually, they were banned from the streets. By 1850, though, they returned peacefully. It's now regarded as the most famous celebration of Bonfire Night in the world.
Bonfire Night FAQs
Why do we still celebrate Bonfire Night?
It commemorates an annual event, Guy Fawkes Night, observed every November 5 since 1606 when, during the previous year, there was an unsuccessful assassination attempt to kill King James I — and blow up the Westminster building housing Britain’s Parliament. Relieved at the rescue of the king, grateful citizens lit bonfires all over London.
Who celebrates Bonfire Night?
Citizens throughout the UK, which includes England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland all celebrate Bonfire Night.
What really happened to Guy Fawkes?
Rather than submit to the torture of being drawn and quartered for treason, Guy Fawkes, one of the leaders of the Gunpowder Plot, jumped to his death right before his execution.
Bonfire Night Activities
Light your own bonfire
Regardless of where you live, lighting your own bonfire is a fun and easy way to celebrate Bonfire Night. Grab your friends, some wood, and make s'mores!
Eat bangers and mash
If you really want to go all out, you can cook sausage over your bonfire. However, if you want to celebrate Bonfire Night in an easier way, you can simply enjoy the traditional meal of bangers and mash.
Read up on the Gunpowder Plot
Bonfire Night began the same year rebels tried to carry out the Gunpowder Plot. Many Londoners knew that the King's life had been saved, triggering a bonfire celebration that very night.
4 Bonfire-friendly Dishes Perfect For Guy Fawkes Night
Cinnamon sugar donuts
Bring along some biscuit dough, cinnamon sugar, oil, and a dutch oven; just be careful not to burn yourself with the oil!
Wrap crescent roll dough around a stick, cook over the fire, remove the stick, and fill with pudding or chocolate frosting.
Slice a banana lengthwise and fill with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips, then cover in foil and heat over the fire until melted.
Cook biscuit dough and an egg using muffin tins; when both are heated, assemble your sandwich, and top with cheese, onion, and salt, and pepper.
Why We Love Bonfire Night
Bonfire Night keeps history alive
British history's quite colorful — filled with betrayal, plots against the monarchy, and power shifts. Bonfire Night sheds light on the state of the country at the time, as well as the tension between Catholics and Protestants, which shaped much of Britain's history.
It's a unique experience
Bonfire Night's a fun event that anyone can enjoy. Cities and towns host stunning firework shows, festivals, and bonfire events.
Kids love to participate
Some children still walk the streets with a Guy Fawkes dummy — asking for money to buy fireworks later that night. While children can no longer buy fireworks, the tradition remains.