“Remember, remember the 5th of November. Gunpowder treason and plot” begins the old rhyme for Bonfire night. The event is an annual celebration in the UK whereby effigies of a 17th century “traitor” called Guy Fawkes are burnt on great pyres up and down the country. This is typically combined with a firework show and generally becomes something of a carnival for local communities up and down the country.
The historic incident on which the celebration is based on happened in 1605. At this time in England and much of Europe there was fierce rivalry between competing Christian factions predominantly split along the lines of Catholic and Protestant. By the 17th Century England had become a largely Protestant state but a large number of Catholics remained.
Some Catholics of the time, seeing their loyalty more to the spiritual leadership of the Pope rather than the earthly leadership of the King were moved to act against the government of the day. The plot now famously known as the Gunpowder Plot was concocted and involved hiding a large number of barrels filled with explosive gunpowder under the Houses of Parliament – the seat of English Government – and then explode it like a bomb. The plan being to kill the leaders of the country in one swoop.
The plot however was foiled when the gunpowder barrels were discovered under the building guarded by a man named Guy Fawkes. Captured by the authorities he was interrogated, tortured, made to confess and then finally sentenced to die by hanging. Defiant to the last, he leapt from the scaffold and broke his neck rather than suffer the indignity of mutiliation after being hung, drawn and quartered – the final punishment in those days for treason.
The Holiday Since.
The holiday has grown since its original inception spreading through the rest of the British Isles over time. Growing acceptance of differing faith during the 19th centuries and onwards has long since diminished the religious overtones of the celebration so that now it is generally regarded as simply a nice social occasion or night out for the kids.
The figure of the Guy who is burned is sometimes made to look like a 17th century man but nowadays it is quite popular to make the effigy resemble a popular hate figure of the time. Earlier centuries would burn model popes but in recent times it tends to be puppets resembling politicians and out of favour celebrities and other persons of note who end up on the bonfire.
Staying Safe During Bonfire Night
Now even before you get into side activities such as a potential fireworks show it is important to remember that you are still basically dealing with a great big fire. While you don’t necessarily need top notch survival or wilderness skill, it’s important to play it safe. Here’s a few things to bare in mind:
- Stay Sober – It may be a celebration but alcohol slows the reflexes and leads to bad judgement calls. Which is a very bad idea when there is a raging fire infront of you.
- Give Plenty of Space – At least 20 meters is generally recommended from other buildings, trees, fences, sheds or any other feature that might potentially catch fire.
- Never Use Flammable Liquids – Use domestic firelighters instead. Flammable liquids are much more dangerous.
- Check for Animals and Children – A great big stacked pile of wood and other consumable can be an irresistible playground. Make sure nothing is hiding inside it before you start the fire.
- Abide by Local Legislation – There may be particular council laws regarding the burning of Bonfires in your locality. To avoid trouble with the law make sure to check with the group in charge of wherever your bonfire is to be burned.