Planning for Guy Fawkes Night Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Planning for Guy Fawkes Night

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Guy Fawkes standing over a keg of gunpowder holding a lantern, sporting a fine beard
Please to remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.
We know no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

- Traditional rhyme

Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night is a much-loved date on the calendar, especially by cheeky little kids up and down the length and breadth of Britain. It's usually celebrated on the night of 5 November and commemorates the day when Guy or Guido Fawkes and his fellow band of Catholic conspirators were foiled in their dastardly plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament, a day when King James I was in session for the State Opening.

The historical significance of the evening has faded somewhat, but come 5 November, Britain is aglow with orange bonfires and burning effigies of naughty old Guy, fireworks screaming across the crisp autumn night. Guy Fawkes Night is magical. But it also requires some planning...

Links for non-UK Users

Here are a few h2g2 links to help explain what exactly this entry is all about; a bit of secondary reading:

Pagan Origins

The origins of Bonfire/Guy Fawkes night may actually be much older than the foiled attempt at blowing up the houses of parliament in 1605. Although Samhain is now popularly thought of as being 31 October and related to Halloween, it is more accurately 6 November. The Celtic equivalent of 6 November starts the evening of the 5 November as Celtic days were a night followed by a day. Celebrations traditionally involved the building of bonfires and probably some form of human sacrifice. Sacrifices were selected by people taking a specially baked cake or biscuit. One piece of biscuit would be blackened over the bonfire. The person who chose it was sacrificed. More recently the person who chose it had to walk over the dying embers of the fire. Rituals appear to have evolved from human sacrifice to the burning of effigies: these effigies were often of local criminals; during the reformation they were the pope; at some point following the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 they became Guy Fawkes.

Organised Displays

Organised displays are definitely the safest option (what's the attraction of standing next to a bomb with a short fuse anyway?). In addition, a large display can afford vastly more impressive fireworks that almost any individual can, so you get a better display. Entry cost to a good display is fairly trivial, and it often goes to charity, so it seems like one of those rare win-win situations! Well, this Researcher seems to think so...

My personal experience of organised displays is that they are always very good - and really quite safe. I had a really great time last year: myself and a group of friends went to the Battersea Park display set to music ('Carmina Burana', 'In The Hall of the Mountain King', and Robbie Williams for some strange reason), and, when that had finished, we heard that there was going to be another one at 10.30 at the Royal Festival Hall with a 50-strong samba band. So, we walked there, via Pimlico. This then led us to walk straight in front of the MI6 and MI5 buildings. Of course, we blew kisses at the security cameras. Then the cameras started to swivel round, in order to, well, see us...
Suffice to say, we got to see two displays, and had a fantastic late-night walk down the South Bank!

However, there are those that make a case for more intimate affairs....

The best celebrations are community or family-based ones: organised events may be spectacular to behold but they lack the atmosphere of a small event for family and friends. The best food? Well, tradition dictates the tomato soup of a well-known brand. These small events work very well when everyone contributes some food and fireworks and when people work together to build the bonfire and make the Guy.

My Bonfire Night Memories

One Researcher takes us on trip down memory lane and discovers that the bonfires of childhood glow brighter in the memory than those of today...

I don't know if the ages of time have affected my memories, but I'm sure I used to have fantastic bonfire nights. Here's my recipe for success and why it can't be repeated.
  • A big garden or vegetable patch (usually nothing is growing at this time of year).
    ... Hmmm - my shared flat space doesn't seem to afford me that luxury now.

  • The recent prunings from the autumn, left-over crates from the tip and anything else that you know you don't need.
    ... Of course in those days you could rely on the wood being able to dry out in time - I'm sure it didn't rain as much back then. Oh, and even broken crates are charged for now.

  • A clear, cold night
    ... Well, one out of two isn't bad.

  • Lots of friends - each of whom has to bring their own selection of fireworks.
    ... Let's see - all my friends - nuff said.

  • Food and Drink - Jacket Potatoes with cheese and bacon, hot chocolate and tomato soup.
    ... Except it's tomato and basil now, and the hot chocolate is low fat chocolate flavoured milk and you've probably invited a vegan over so that's no good.

  • At least one Catherine Wheel that falls off the tree and starts going berserk around peoples' feet.
    ... Actually - it's quite possible that this still happens.

  • Roller Skates - once the wheels set on fire they made a great game of night time football.
    ... Not sure that rollerblades work as well.

  • Your Dad's best 1970s polyester suit turned into a Guy.
    ... I guess we have to look to 80s clothing now and have you ever seen what happens when a shell suit catches on fire?!

Food for Bonfire Night

This is a matter of choice, but comfort foods always rate highly in most households, along with food that can be eaten with the fingers. Jacket potatoes are really good - if you're very careful they can be wrapped in foil and cooked on the edges of the bonfire. Make sure you use a long stick to fish them out though! Corn-on-the-cob can be done like this as well. Sausages are also good, but it's probably safer to do these on a conventional cooker.

If you're catering for a lot of people, big pots of chilli or stew are nice and warming, as well as being relatively simple to prepare, and with the advantage of minimal effort. Big chunky soups are also a possibility.

The most important thing for bonfire night though is treacle toffee. You can't celebrate properly without it!

We have huge get-togethers for Bonfire Night as members of my family are pyromaniacs. Last year we tried various sorts of curry. Usually we go for tandoori chicken legs, chicken nuggety-things, veg sticks, mulled wine and good old marshmallows. Quite exotic actually, although I don't believe you can beat a hearty hot dog which can be eaten at the same time as you hold a sparkler.

And just to re-iterate that point about 'good old marshmallows', the best thing to do is put them on a stick, wait till they catch fire, blow on them to put out the flames, and then eat it quick before the burnt black outer shell falls off. Chocolate bananas, anyone?

I agree with all of the above, and would like to add the delight of the chocolate banana. Take one banana, leaving the skin on make a cut lengthwise but not so deep as to cut it in half. Stuff the opening with chocolate pieces (chocolate buttons are good for this). Wrap the whole thing in tin foil and place near the bottom of the bonfire for a while. Carefully fish it out with a stick and allow to cool so that you can pick it up and voilĂ  - warm, chocolatey, bananary mush.
Tomato soup out of a flask that you take with you to an organised display, eaten at just around the point when your fingers and toes have started going numb with the cold, is one of the most heavenly things ever.

And a lovely childhood memory flashback...

When we were (very) little boys, my mum used to give us our pre-fireworks tea of sausages, jacket potato and a little cake as a Guy Fawkes man on the plate (spud body, sausage limbs, cake head!) Awwww. Waves of nostalgia as I write this! Wasn't she sweet!


Possibly the safest firework, so long as you're careful. You should always wear gloves to protect your hands from any sparks that could go astray. When you've got a lit sparkler, be careful with it! Don't go swishing it around right next to someone, especially not their face. And always have a bucket of water ready to put the used sparklers straight into - they can stay very hot for quite a while after they've gone out.

Oh, and don't give them to children under five.

Another Safety Tip

Guy Fawkes Night is the busiest night for firemen in the UK, which is understandable really. But you can't be too safe or too cautious. Here's another safety tip:

If you have built your bonfire over a period of days in a readily-accessible, fairly public place, check it for 'surprises' before setting light to it. Unthinking vandalistic morons can leave little presents such as full cans of WD40 concealed inside it, ready to explode and take out someone's femoral artery.


If you have pets ensure they are indoors and that you leave either the TV or the radio on, this will help to cover the noise as they can become very frightened by the loud sounds. If you have pets that live outside ie, rabbits, Guinea pigs etc, cover the cages with an old blanket or piece of old carpet, this will cut down the noise and ensure that nothing gets inside the cage, if the bonfire or fireworks are going to be near then these can be dampened.

Hedgehogs... hedgehogs?!

Tip for building the bonfire: do not build it too far in advance as hibernating hedgehogs think it is a perfect home and settle down in it for the winter. Before lighting it, check that there are no hedgehogs asleep in there. Baked hedgehog is not a recommended food for bonfire night.

I once heard that you were supposed to build two bonfires. One larger than the other. The smaller one you set light to and the larger is for the hedgehogs. If you only have one you may end up burning a lot of hedgehogs. Possibly the best way of avoiding this is to make the bonfire the day you're going to burn it.

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