Everything you need to know about Bonfire Night

12 Aug 2020

Events Food + Drink

Remember, remember the 5th of November with our guide to bonfire night

An explosion of colours, the exciting bang, the magic of sparklers; who doesn’t love Bonfire Night? We can’t resist sipping on our high-cocoa hot chocolate whilst we nibble on a piece of warming chilli chocolate, staring up at the abundance of colours bursting in the sky.

Although we now see the 5th of November as a chance to marvel over a stunning fireworks display as we munch on marshmallows and burgers, Bonfire Night has a surprisingly gruesome origin. We dive into everything you need to know about Bonfire Night to help you remember, remember the 5th of November in a slightly different light.

sparkler on bonfire night

Why do we celebrate Bonfire Night?

The origins of Bonfire Night dates back hundreds of years. Born out of a thwarted terrorist attack on the House of Parliament in 1605, Bonfire Night marks the date when Guy Fawkes – who was a strong Catholic – failed to assassinate King James I. Fawkes installed a cache of gunpowder underneath the Houses of Parliament, which he planned to ignite whilst the King was in the building.

Luckily for King James, the plot was uncovered and Fawkes, along with his collaborators, were arrested. Celebrating the fact that the King had survived, people around London lit bonfires, and later the introduction of the Observance of the 5th November Act 1606 was brought in to mark a public holiday to show thanks for the failure of the plot.

It’s no wonder that people were relieved Fawkes’ plan failed – if it had been successful, the 2,500kg of gunpowder stored underneath Parliament would have caused damage to anything within a radius of 500 metres.

houses of parliament

What is Guy Fawkes famous for?

The mastermind behind the gunpowder plot, Guy Fawkes wasn’t just an erratic arsonist who enjoyed lighting things up – the attempted terrorist attack was fueled by religious motives. Fawkes wanted to end the reign of Protestantism in England, with plans to instil a Catholic head of state instead.

His tactics might not have been justifiable, but the reason he wanted to oust Protestantism may be understandable. During the 16th century, England wasn’t as tolerant as it is nowadays when it comes to practising religion. In 1558 Elizabeth I had created a religious settlement, which forbade Catholic worship and made it punishable by law. It was also deemed as treason to import or print Catholic texts, and foreign-trained English Catholic priests were declared traitors upon entering England.

James, Elizabeth’s successor, upheld this law, prompting Fawkes and his other collaborators to come up with the gunpowder plot. Guy Fawkes and his group hid 36 gunpowder barrels in a cellar they hired under Parliament – Fawkes had the role of lighting the fuse, after which he would escape to Flanders in Belgium to raise forces to join the Catholic uprising in England.

stained glass window in catholic church

Unluckily for Fawkes, he was discovered, and over the next few months, the English authorities either captured or killed every gunpowder plot conspirator, along with dozens of other innocent English Catholics.

The execution of those found guilty was neither swift nor painless – the chief organisers were to be hanged, drawn and quartered in London. Fawkes managed to avert the excruciating pain of this fate by jumping from the ladder on the way to the hanging platform, breaking his neck and dying instantly.

Have we always celebrated Bonfire Night?

For us, no Bonfire Night is complete without a fireworks display. The practice of using fireworks to mark a celebration first took place in 1486, to celebrate Henry VII’s wedding to Elizabeth of York in 1486. However, fireworks weren’t for common folk to use – to celebrate the uncovering of Guy Fawkes’ plot, most took to lighting bonfires, a tradition which still is carried out in England today.

Nowadays, most of us are familiar with the idea that an effigy of Guy Fawkes is to be thrown onto the bonfire. However, this practice wasn’t actually carried out at the time when Bonfire Night was first celebrated. In fact, after James I’s son married a French Catholic Princess in 1625, there was outcry within England, with many burning effigies of the Pope to show their disgust at the royal allegiance between Catholics and Protestants.

bonfire at night

Eventually, the violence shown towards Catholicism got so out of hand that by 1682 London’s militia were forced to intervene to quell the unrest prompted by the holiday. By 1685 King James II, son of Charles I, banned fireworks and bonfires, although this attempt was largely unsuccessful.

Over time, the violence towards Catholics diminished, and the date eventually turned into a day of entertainment. At some point in the 18th century, effigies that were burned changed from the Pope to Guy Fawkes. However, the reason why people decided to take it out on Guy Fawkes, such a long time after his failed attack, remains unclear.

Although the celebration of Bonfire Night has continued throughout British history, there have been some instances where it was completely banned. During World War I and World War II the 1914 Defence of the Realm Act banned setting off fireworks and lighting bonfires.

How to celebrate Bonfire Night

Although some see Bonfire Night as a chance to wave a few sparklers in the air and eat one-too-many marshmallows, others in Britain take the occasion much more seriously, with different parts of the UK putting their own spin on the anniversary.

To encourage youngsters to join in with the celebrations, children were encouraged to make their own Guy Fawkes effigies to parade around the town before being thrown on the bonfire. This is where the term ‘penny for the Guy’ was coined: children would ask for pennies in the hopes of spending it on sweets or sparklers at the local Bonfire Night display.

In Kent, the Edenbridge Display sees a 30ft effigy of Guy Fawkes getting burned in front of a crowd as a huge fireworks display goes off. In Ottery St Mary, Devon, men carry flaming tar barrels on their shoulders down the High Street, changing between carriers once the barrel gets too hot to hold, until eventually the flames die out and the barrel turns to ash.

However, if you can’t make it to these towns, then don’t worry – most towns, cities and villages put on their own firework displays. If you fancy having your own celebration at home, give the little ones some sparklers as you build your own fire – we suggest using a metal drum to burn your wood in, as it’s safe and relatively cheap to buy.

kid with sparklers

If you want to get creative this November 5, why not make your own baked goods and decorate them with hundreds and thousands to replicate the scattering of colours in the sky from fireworks? Our chocolate drops make baking all the easier – their petite size means that they melt smoothly and evenly so that you don’t have to worry about any big chunks remaining as they melt.

What do you eat on Bonfire Night?

Although burgers and hot dogs might be staples of a summertime BBQ, for some reason us Brits just can’t seem to get enough of them on Bonfire Night. However, if you’re tired of the same old meat-in-a-bun snack, there are plenty of other foods to dive into when you’re out in the cold and in need of a warming snack.

Although it might not be that refined, the jacket potato is a classic part of English cuisine thanks to its versatility. The perfect food to enjoy on a chilly Bonfire Night, simply wrap your potato up in tin foil and pop it on the bonfire for an hour. Be careful when you remove it – use a long pair of tongs or a stick, and wear gloves to open it. Top with whatever you fancy and be generous with the butter and salt and pepper.

A classic pudding to eat on Bonfire Night, the Yorkshire Parkin has all the warming notes of ginger and spices, perfect for when the late-night shivers start to kick in. What sets this cake apart from a typical ginger cake is the presence of spices, as well as the porridge oats used in it. Wonderfully moist, this is sure to keep you going until the last firework has reached the sky.

If you’re planning on taking a few snacks with you, why not bring our resealable tub of Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger? Spicy stem ginger will give you that gentle heat, warming up both your insides and taste buds. Or why not pack our Fruit & Nut Chocolate Slab Selector, packed with chewy dried fruits and crunchy nuts – the perfect treat for when you need both nourishment and indulgence.

Although a Pumpkin Pie is a typical autumnal dessert, sometimes there’s not just enough time – or patience – to whip one up from scratch. That’s why our Pumpkin Pie Selector is the perfect way to enjoy the lightly spiced sweetness of the real thing – we even baked a real spiced pumpkin pie first to make sure we got the recipe just right.

Of course, no Bonfire Night is complete without a flask of steaming hot chocolate to get you through the chilly night. For an extra-warming cup of cocoa, try our Chilli-Dark Hot Chocolate, made with Habanero chillies and 70% dark. The ideal drink to keep you going till the very end of the display. Don’t worry if you’re not completely convinced by this recipe – we have a whole range of hot chocolates to choose from, all made with grated flakes of the real stuff, giving you a hot choc which is big on flavour, and undeniably smooth.

Hot Chocolat
Our Hot Chocolate – pair with The Velvetiser for the smoothest results

Although Bonfire Night might have changed its focus from what it was once about, we’re not too bothered that the original meaning has been lost. We think Bonfire Night should be all about making happy memories with the people you love the most – let’s always remember, remember the 5th of December in a special light.