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Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night

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Bonfire Night is celebrated across the UK on 5 November. The date marks the failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament by Guy Fawkes* along with a group of co-conspirators in London in 1605.

The intention was to kill King James I and wipe out everyone in government. The group were Catholic extremists who wanted to return England to the Catholic faith. One of the conspirators had a friend in the Houses of Parliament and sent a letter to him, warning him to stay away from the House on the day the attack was supposed to take place. The letter was intercepted and handed to the king.

Meanwhile, Guy Fawkes and friends, having formulated their plan, known as the 'Gunpowder Plot', had rolled 36 barrels of gunpowder into the cellars of the Houses of Parliament, and were waiting for the king to arrive when guards broke in and arrested them. They were tortured and executed.

Nowadays on Bonfire Night people organise their own parties or attend big organised fireworks displays. They stand around the bonfire, set off fireworks and eat lots of nice warming Bonfire Night foods, like sausages and jacket potatoes. They might also remark...

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot,
We see no reason,
Why gunpowder treason,
Should ever be forgot!

...Which sort of suggests that people rather admire the cheek of Guy Fawkes, trying to blow up Parliament, and that's why they celebrate Bonfire night, rather than celebrating the fact that his plot failed and he was caught!

Fireworks that are sent up on Bonfire night have really evocative names like, Roman Candles, Mount Vesuvius and Golden Shower. There are also Catherine Wheels that spin and Sparklers that children write their names in the air with.

Children make life-sized effigies of Guy Fawkes which are called Guys, to put onto the bonfires. The English have been burning effigies to mark Guy Fawkes' treason for almost 400 years. The tradition started in 1606, the year after the Gunpowder plot failed. In these first bonfires, called 'bone fires' at the time, it wasn't an effigy of Guy Fawkes that was burned, but one of the Pope. It was not until 1806, two centuries later, that the people started burning effigies of Guy Fawkes instead.

Children make a Guy by stuffing some old clothes with newspapers, craft a head out of material, and either draw a face on it or buy a special cardboard Guy Fawkes mask. For a few days beforehand children are pushing guys around in prams, push chairs and go-carts, saying 'A penny for the guy'. Adults then give them money - how much depends on how good the guy is. The money is then spent on sparklers, or at least it would be, if children were still allowed to buy fireworks in the UK, so it is probably spent on sweets instead.

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