While Americans tend to have a reputation for liking to set fires and blow things up on various holidays (true), the British are not immune to this particular pleasure.
Every year on the 5th of November (and the weekends surrounding it), they celebrate what is known as “Bonfire night,” “Guy Fawkes night,” or “Fireworks night.”
The reason stems back to 1605 (typical Britain with traditions older than America itself). Basically, the King at the time was Protestant, and the Catholics in England felt suppressed because it wasn’t a time of “let’s all love each other,” but more of a “shut up, I’m the ruler and it’s 1605 so I can do what I want” sentiment.
Anyway, Guy Fawkes was a part of a Catholic revolt group who had planned to blow up the House of Lords with gunpowder during the State Opening of Parliament on 5 November. Fortunately for the King and the rest of parliament, an anonymous letter went out that tipped off the authorities to the plan. Late at night on the 4th of November, Guy Fakwes was found in the House of Lords guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder (not sure if the “it’s not mine” excuse would have worked here) and promptly arrested. Many of the co-conspirators of this “Gunpowder Plot” were hung, drawn, and quartered (hello, 1605), but Guy Fawkes managed to jump from the gallows and break his neck before they could execute him. How pleasant.
In celebration of the failure of the Gunpowder Plot and the fact that the House of Lords didn’t go up in a plume of smoke and rubble, people started celebrating by way of bonfires and eventually it became a national holiday. It was even celebrated in the North American colonies as ‘Pope Day,’ up until the American Revolution when we were like, “Wait we’re supposed to be celebrating religious freedom, not persecution. Let’s find another day.”
Nowadays, Bonfire Night has lost its religious tones and is just an excuse to get together with your town and light things on fire and eat hamburgers and drink. Organized events take place all across the nation, and the bonfires are
People are invited to bring any wood or furniture that’s being thrown out to add to the fire, and the firemen are invited to
watch while the countryside burns as they drink mulled wine help keep everything under control.
The end of the night is the fireworks display, where you hold hands with your loved ones, watch the children out of the corner of your eye to make sure they haven’t gone face first into the bonfire, and do your best to time the ending so you’re the first one out of the parking lot and don’t have to wait in a long line of cars to get home to your warm bed.
Not quite the spectacle of the previous centuries, but British nonetheless.