Bonfire Night

In this blogpost we’re looking at Bonfire Night!  Perhaps you’ve heard of it before? This post is going to look at what Bonfire Night is, some of the history behind it and how Bonfire Night is celebrated in Great Britain today.

Let’s get started.

So in 1605, over 400 years ago, James I (only son of Mary Queen of Scots) was on the throne as King of England (and Scotland!). James I’s predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I had made laws against the Roman Catholics and many had hoped that James I would change the state of things but he didn’t; in fact, he passed even more laws against Catholics.

So what?

This meant that Catholics at the time had to practise their religion in secret and people were penalised for not going to Protestant churches on Sundays.

A group of English Catholics led by Robert Catesby hatched a plan to change the status quo and try to kill King James I who they knew was going to be at the Houses of Parliament on 5th November 1605.

Robert Catesby


The main man of this event though was someone called Guy Fawkes who had converted to Catholicism as a young person and fought in the Spanish Army. During his time there he adopted the Italian version of his first name, Guido.

This plan was known as The Gunpowder Plot. However, some people involved in this plot started to get nervous about it and one in particular, called Francis Tresham, wrote a letter to his cousin warning him about the plot. This letter fell into the hands of the King’s guard and so the plot was foiled.

Guy Fawkes was apprehended on 5th November 1605 under the Houses of Parliament with a large amount of gunpowder (apparently 36 barrels of it) and so the tradition came about to light a huge bonfire on the same date to celebrate that The Gunpowder Plot failed.

Guy Fawkes and Conspirators (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


Now for what happens nowadays …

These days people still light bonfires on or around the 5th November but more for tradition’s sake rather than to celebrate the failed plot. Actually, many people tie in celebrations for Hallowe’en (celebrated on 31st October) with Bonfire Night and it is not unusual to see carved pumpkin lanterns and children dressed in Hallowe’en costumes at bonfire events.

Bonfire Night is also known as Fireworks Night as fireworks are usually let off near the bonfire. Some people celebrate the night with a small fire in their back garden with some family and friends whilst others go to large, ticketed events in nearby fields and recreation grounds where there might also be other attractions such as a funfair and food and drink stalls too.













And what about the food and drink?!…

As with most festivals there are, of course, particular foods that are associated with Bonfire Night in Great Britain and this varies from region to region but some of the most common are:

  • Hotdogs
  • Jacket potatoes with chilli con carne
  • Tomato soup
  • Toffee apples
  • Parkin cake (So delicious with a cup of tea!)
  • Toasted marshmallow sweets
  • Hot Chocolate
  • Mulled Wine

Delicious Yorkshire Parkin Cake


Want to experience Bonfire Night?

Nearby LSI/IH Portsmouth we have a large, popular event which is held at King George VI Playing Fields in Cosham! – This year it’s taking place on Wednesday 3rd November and is completely free to attend. So if you’re going to be in Portsmouth for a course with us at the beginning of November this year, do check out the Bonfire Night festivities for yourself.

For a peak at what is going on in other parts of the UK and Ireland, head over to our IH partner schools’ sites in Belfast, Bristol, Manchester and Galway!

Let us know in the comments if you have a festival celebrated with a bonfire in your country.