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Government conspiracies, religious turmoil and secret plots?! That’s really what Bonfire Night is all about. Although this might just seem like a time for the people of the community to gather around a giant bonfire and enjoy some toffee apples or sausage baps, there’s more history behind it than that. 

Get ready to learn about and enjoy celebrating Bonfire Night!

History of Bonfire Night

The background of this night begins in the early 1600s when King James I was put on the throne and, against the hopes of many Catholics in England, still supported the fairly anti-Catholic sentiments of his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I. With a desire to be able to practice their Catholic faith publicly rather than in secret, several conspirators decided they should get rid of King James I by assassination and, in the process, kidnap his children so that they could control the throne – with hopes of greater religious tolerance.

Alas, the 1605 plot to assassinate the king (and many others with him) was foiled by a warning letter sent to one of the Lords, and the various plotters were caught before the king could be harmed. Guy Fawkes and several other conspirators were tried, convicted and put to death, but Fawkes is probably the most well-known name of the group, even though the idea wasn’t originally his.

Because of the relief that the king’s life was spared, as the news spread throughout Britain, the people built bonfires in towns and villages as a form of celebration. In early 1606, after Fawkes and his conspirators were sentenced, Parliament mandated that a Thanksgiving celebration should take place every year on the date of the foiled assassination attempt.

Even though the Parliamentary Act that declared the 5th of November as a holiday was repealed in 1859, the tradition of celebrating Bonfire Night still lives on all throughout the United Kingdom. Today, more than 400 years later, people still remember and pay homage to the foiled plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament by enjoying a bonfire in their local community.

Also referred to as Guy Fawkes Night, or Fireworks Night, while this event is certainly based on events from several centuries ago, it has also simply become a time for people to gather together as a community for an evening of fun. In some situations, people still include an effigy of Guy Fawkes, or some other famous person, that is placed on the fire to be burned. 

In fact, one of the biggest “Guys” of all that is burned on Bonfire Night can be found in Edenbridge, England, where every year a huge, 9 foot tall model of a celebrity is chosen to be burned in effigy each year. Wayne Rooney, Liz Truss, Tony Blair, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein and so many others have been on the list!

All in all, Bonfire Night is a time to gather with the community, celebrate the freedoms enjoyed in today’s modern governments, and simply hang out with friends!

Bonfire Night  Timeline

November 5, 1605 

Gunpowder Plot takes place 

Guy Fawkes and several other English Catholic conspirators plan to kill King James I to try to regain their religious freedoms.

1605

First Bonfire Nights are celebrated 

When the news spreads about the foiled plot against the king, the people of England celebrate by building bonfires in their towns.

18th Century

Children play pranks on Bonfire Night 

As the day evolves over the years, it turns into a time for pranks and is sometimes referred to as “Mischief Night”.[1]

1859

November 5 observance is repealed 

After more than 250 years of celebrating this day, Parliament repeals the 5th of November Act, but the celebration of Bonfire Night still lives on.[2]

How to Celebrate Bonfire Night

Autumn vibes are in the air and Bonfire Night is a great time to show some love and appreciation for this community event. Grab a friend or family member and check out some of these delightful ideas for enjoying this night:

Enjoy a Community Bonfire Night

Even today, most towns and villages across the United Kingdom, including England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, often pay homage to Bonfire Night by celebrating with a community gathering. This gathering is often located at the edge of town where it’s possible to enjoy a very large bonfire, often fenced off for safety. Typically there is also a fireworks display included with the festivities of the evening, as well as various foods available for purchase such as toffee apples, hot snacks, or drinks such as hot spiced ciders or mulled wines.

Host a Bonfire Night Gathering

Those who don’t live in the UK, or who just don’t feel like going out in a crowd, can still certainly join in on the fun of Bonfire Night by hosting a gathering in their own home. It would be great for those who live on a larger piece of property to safely build their own bonfire. Or even just a smaller one in a fire pit could be fun as well. And don’t forget having some fireworks at home!

Snacks for a Bonfire Night gathering could include some tasty treats like homemade toffee popcorn, toffee apple cake, pumpkin fondue or sticky sausage. Also, plan to warm up those guests by serving some special autumn-themed hot beverage such as salted caramel hot chocolate (keep it in the slow cooker for easy access), spiced apple and ginger ale, hot toddies, or hot apple pie punch.

Make Some Bonfire Night Cocktails

Some folks who identify as mixologists might want to come up with some special cocktails in honor of the day. For the adults in the crowd, get creative with some of your own mixes or consider some of these ideas:

  • Hot Gin Toddy. This one uses gin instead of whiskey, so it’s a more British version. Use gin, honey, a cinnamon stick and hot water.
  • Boozy Hot Chocolate. Hot cocoa, but adult style! This one can be made in a variety of ways, by adding peppermint liqueur, cinnamon whiskey, or even pink marshmallow flavored moonshine. Don’t forget the whipping cream on top!
  • Mulled Gin. Almost like mulled wine but a bit more unique. And it still leaves the bartender free to do other things. Try adding gin with elderflower and mulling spices, warmed in a saucepan on the stove.
  • White Wine Spiced Apple and Pear Punch. Another fun version of what might be similar to a cider or mulled wine, this one is a unique take. Use a bottle of fruity white wine, then add thin slices of apple and pear. Make a simple syrup with sugar, water, lemon peel and cinnamon stick and mix together. 

Bonfire Night  FAQs

What is a bonfire?

A bonfire is a very large, controlled fire that is held in the open air either to burn rubbish or set as part of a celebration.

Why is it called a bonfire?

The word “bonfire” is derived from the Middle English term combining “bone” and “fire”, when open air fires took place that originally burned bones.[1]

What happened on the 5th of November?

On November 5, 1605, the Gunpowder Plot to assassinate the king was foiled and the king was saved.

What are the origins of Bonfire Night?

Bonfire Night got its start when, after the people of England heard the news that the king had been saved from a plot to kill him, they built bonfires in celebration.[2]

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