Culture

The story behind ‘Bonfire Night’

Firework night being celebrated in London. Image by photographer Dan Kitwood for Getty Images.

By Desiree Torres Diaz

If you have recently moved to the UK, you might be wondering why there have been so many fireworks over the past week. Every November 5th “Bonfire Night”, also known as Guy Fawkes Day, takes places to commemorate the failed attempt to blow up the House of Parliament; colloquially known as the Gunpowder Plot. Originally, people lit bonfires with a dummy man at the top, which represents Guido Fawkes; but today it is mostly celebrated with fireworks.

To put you in context, it is necessary to go back to 1605, when James I was the King of Great Britain and Ireland. Prior to this, when Queen Elizabeth I took the throne of England she imposed some laws against Roman Catholics. Robert Catesby and Guy Fawkes were part of a small Roman Catholic group who felt that the government was treating them unfairly. When James I was announced King, they hoped he would change the laws, however he did not. Consequently, Robert Catesby began conspiring against him and recruiting men to go ahead with his plan of blowing up the Houses of Parliament while the opening night was being held, to ensure the King would be there.

Robert Catesby realized he needed an explosive expert to carry out the plan, it was then when Guy Fawkes joined his team. Days before the event, an anonymous letter explaining what was going to happen was sent to a loyal member of James I’s government. Shortly afterwards, the king found out what had happened and sent everyone out in search of Guy Fawkes. On the morning of November 5th soldiers discovered him hidden in the cellar with 36 barrels of gunpowder. He was then tortured at the top of the Tower of London hoping he would reveal the names of his co-conspirators; but by the time Guy revealed the names, they were all arrested. Fawkes and his team were sentenced to death, and when Londoners and people across the UK found out, they started lighting bonfires celebrating the fact James I was still alive. Since then, November 5th has become known as ‘Bonfire Night’.

Although there are different tales and versions of what really happened that night, people still celebrate the victory. Some celebrate the fact that nothing happened to the king, others that Guy Fawkes was sentenced to death. But despite the differences in opinion, it is an important day that has passed through generations.

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