In the UK, the 5th of November is known as Bonfire Night, or sometimes Firework Night or Guy Fawkes Night. Â It is a tradition that marks the failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament, known as The Gunpowder Plot. Â Whilst the plan itself was masterminded by a Richard Catesby (bet you didn’t know that!) it is always Guy Fawkes who is most associated with it given that he was in charge of actually carrying the attempt out.
To mark the anniversary of this event us Brits always used to host Bonfire Night parties on or around November 5th. Â In the weeks leading up to the big night we started to make the bonfire in the back garden out of garden waste, hedge trimmings, old cardboard boxes and generally anything that you could safely set fire to. Â There was also the making of an effigy or Guy Fawkes (see Penny for the Guy) to sit atop the blazing heap.
My favourite part of the run up though was going to buy the fireworks. Â Back then fireworks were generally sold in newsagents and toy shops, whereas these days it’s more likely to be a supermarket that you get them from. Â One thing that hasn’t changed much is that fireworks only became available a few weeks before the big night, and for the most part this is true today, although it appears to be easier to obtain them from specialist shops these days as people start to have fireworks to celebrate New Years Eve, birthdays and other special occasions, which didn’t happen so much back in the 1980’s.
Fireworks were (and still are) normally sold in selection packs with names like Stellar Explosion or White Galaxy. Â Our family normally ended up with a couple of packs of medium sized Rockets and a reasonable sized selection pack containing a mixture of ground based fireworks. Â If you were lucky then you might also get a Catherine Wheel or two in there as well. Â These are my personal favourites as I love the rushing sound they make as they spin round wildly.
So, with bonfire, Guy and fireworks all prepared, all that was left was for the big night to come round. Â It always seemed to be icy cold back when I was a kid, certainly much colder than it feels to me these days, although maybe that’s just because I’m older and have a thicker layer of natural insulation these days! 😉 Â Dad would trudge up the garden and get the Bonfire going, which given it had normally been raining was quite often a bit of a task, involving a little bit of petrol to help things along! Â Once it was going we’d all come and stand a safe distance away from the blaze and watch until our Guy Fawkes effigy had burnt away.
Once Guy was no more we retreated to a safe distance and watched Dad set off the fireworks, accompanied by the usual array of “Ooohs” and “Aaahs” that fireworks always instil in people. Â If a firework was particularly poor or boring there would be a good natured round of booing, and a few startled sounds when a rocket went off with a much louder bang than usual. Â You also normally got to watch the Rockets from other peoples parties going off as well, which added to the entertainment.
By the time the last firework had exploded in a burst of coloured sparks the bonfire was beginning to calm down a bit, and so potatoes wrapped in tin foil could be placed in it to bake. Â I must confess here that I don’t think we ever did this ourselves, but its one of those things that you always heard other people did. Â Toasting bread or marshmallows are other examples of the kinds of food that people could make on Bonfire Night (but probably didn’t).
The final ingredient of any Bonfire Night party, done before everyone retired back indoors into the warm, was to give everyone a hand held Sparkler. Â Whilst the instructions may say you shouldn’t wave them about I admit we always did, drawing quickly fading circles or trying to write your name with the bright spark that was so intense it appeared to leave a trail behind it when you moved it around.
These days it seems many of the traditions of Bonfire Night are slowing fading away, with the prevalance of organised fireworks displays and many people no longer having gardens big enough to safely have a bonfire or fireworks display. Â Whilst organised displays are definitely a lot safer and feature bigger and better fireworks than you’d ever have at home, I do miss the old Bonfire Night parties my Mum and Dad used to host for us as children.