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Guy Fawkes Day
Written by Hemanth on January 21, 2022 Share on

Guy Fawkes Night: How do people celebrate it?

People who love celebrations use a lot of colours and fireworks to celebrate Holi in India. The day before Holi is the famous Holika Dahan(burning of the mythical demoness in Hinduism, Holika). This is when the effigies of Holika are set on fire. Similar celebrations are found across the globe, like the El Año Viejo in Spain/Equator, the Marzanna ritual in the Slavic countries, etc. Guy Fawkes Day, or Guy Fawkes Night, is one such tradition in England with a certain historical basis.

What Is Guy Fawkes Night?

Guy Fawkes Night is an annual celebration held on November 5th. Guy Fawkes Night is also known as Guy Fawkes Day, Bonfire Night, or Fireworks Night. It commemorates Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators’ unsuccessful attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. It was known as the Gunpowder Plot.

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Bonfire at Guy Fawkes Night
Source – Unsplash

This evening, millions of people in the United Kingdom (and some beyond) will mark Guy Fawkes Night by lighting fireworks and erecting bonfires. Many people will set fire to the effigies of Guy Fawkes, a 17th-century insurgent.

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Gunpowder Plot? What is that?

In the United Kingdom, there is a long history of strife between Protestants and Catholics. England was a Protestant kingdom under King James I in 1605. King James, I ordered all Catholic priests to leave the country in 1604. This was as part of a greater division between the Catholic church and British monarchs. He also continued the system of fining anyone who did not attend Protestant church services. Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators were Catholics. Thus their objective was to destabilise King James I and his government to spark a Catholic rebellion.

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UK Parliament in the backdrop of Big Ben
Source – Unsplash

To that goal, they stashed 36 barrels of gunpowder in a cellar beneath London’s Parliament. The intention was to fire the gunpowder on November 5, 1605. This was when the monarch would be in Parliament for the first time. One of the plotters wrote a warning letter to one of his companions. But, it was caught by one of the king’s soldiers. The scheme was thwarted just as the explosion was going to go off. Fawkes and several other conspirators were hauled before the king. They were tortured and condemned to death before being hanged, drawn, and quartered.

So, how did the Gunpowder Plot become Guy Fawkes Day?

Following the failure of the plot, the public rejoiced by burning bonfires around London. Within months after the incident, Parliament declared November 5th to be a national day of thanksgiving. Gunpowder Treason Day was what Guy Fawkes Day was known back then. It was made illegal to not participate in the festivities. The legislation was in effect until 1859.

It evolved into a fairly joyful celebration, complete with bonfires and public drinking. It also took on a more distinctively anti-Catholic tone. An ornate Pope effigy was once burnt with alive cats in its stomach. This was to represent the sound of the devil whispering in the Pope’s ear.

Some interpret the celebration of the Gunpowder conspiracy as a means to have a Protestant event against the pagan Halloween. Ironically, Guy Fawkes Night is becoming less popular in modern-day England. The more popular Americanized Halloween festivities are absorbing the customs.

What are people doing these days to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night?

In London, Guy Fawkes Night is a major event. A torch-lit procession is also held in several towns and cities, with the parade. This leads the way to the bonfire, fireworks and ringing church bells. A Guy Fawkes effigy, generally constructed of straw and burned atop the fire, is still present at many bonfires.

Strange to light a fire and let off explosives to commemorate an event that prevented precisely that from occurring, right? But, the bonfire practice at this time of year is a far older ritual mimicking pagan customs of lighting flames to mark the end of harvest. Bonfires were a feature of the Irish Halloween ritual that did not make it to American traditions.

Fireworks at London Eye on Guy Fawkes Night
Source – Unsplash

In London, there are several fireworks displays to select from. The majority of these events require the purchase of tickets. On November 1st and November 2nd, Alexandra Palace stages popular performances. Get your tickets (£8.50 – £12.00) as soon as possible since it is extremely popular. Victoria Park in East London hosts a free show. It’s a short and simple affair, but it’s also suitable for families. There is also lots of pre-show entertainment and celebrations.

Another long-standing custom is the ceremonial search for concealed bombs in the vaults of the Palace of Westminster before the State Opening of Parliament by the Yeomen of the Guard. You may go to the Tower Torture museum to learn about the methods of torture employed at the Tower of London and view reproductions of the tools that inflicted such agony on inmates like Guy Fawkes.


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Other traditions

Kids create a dummy of Guy Fawkes and ask for money (A ‘Penny for the Guy’) to buy crackers. A similar tradition prevailed in Ireland around Halloween (October 31st).

Traditional dishes, such as the sticky Parkin Cake, are available to sample on Guy Fawkes Night in London. Oatmeal, treacle, golden syrup, and ginger are all used in their preparation. Other traditional Guy Fawkes Night foods include toffee apples and mulled wine. People burn bonfires all around the United Kingdom. And it is usual practice to grill sausages or toast marshmallows over them.

Toffee Apples - A Guy Fawkes Day dish
Source – Pixabay

Other British Commonwealth nations, including New Zealand, the United States before the American Revolution also celebrates Guy Fawkes Day. Around 400 years later, Guy Fawkes’ image remains a symbol of insurrection, with demonstrators all over the world donning masks of his stylized face. Lewes, in southern England, has a Guy Fawkes Day celebration with a particularly local flavour, featuring six bonfire clubs whose memberships are based on family history dating back generations.

Isn’t Guy Fawkes Day such a fun event? We thought so too. If you are thinking of visiting London during Guy Fawkes week, you are in for an absolute treat. Pack your bags and make your dreams come true by travelling London with Pickyourtrail. Know more about London from our Guide. What are you waiting for? Check out our London Tour Packages or even better, craft your vacation on your own by reaching out to us to get a customized travel itinerary to the United Kingdom. Happy Travelling!

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