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UK Celebrations: The Origin of Firework Night!

6 min read
31 October 2023
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If you’ve ever been to the UK during November, you may have noticed that for one night only, the nation celebrates Bonfire Night by getting together to watch a dummy called Guy Fawkes burn on a blazing bonfire. But that’s not all! Throughout the evening, children wave hypnotic sparklers, friends stand round the fire drinking warming mugs of hot chocolate (or wine), and families huddle together to watch fireworks light up the sky. 

This event is known as Bonfire Night or Firework Night or Guy Fawkes Night, and there’s nothing else quite like it! But did you know that this seemingly wholesome holiday has some gory roots? Let us take you through the history of Guy Fawkes, and how people in the UK still honor his memory to this day. 


What is Bonfire night?

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, 

Gunpowder, treason and plot...” 

This famous nursery rhyme refers to the origins of Bonfire Night, also known as Guy Fawkes Night: an annual celebration that takes place on the 5 November in the United Kingdom to commemorate the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, an infamous conspiracy to blow up the Houses of Parliament (right by Big Ben) in London.  

Guy Fawkes, a member of a group of provincial English Catholics, attempted to assassinate King James I by planting explosives underneath the Houses of Parliament. However, the authorities uncovered the plot, leading to the arrest of Fawkes and his co-conspirators. Following a trial, Fawkes was brutally tortured and executed for his involvement in the conspiracy. Since then, this date has become a day of remembrance for the failure of the Gunpowder Plot. 


How does the UK celebrate Bonfire night?

Despite its gruesome backstory, in UK culture, Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Night is a joyous occasion marked with community gatherings, burning effigies representing Guy Fawkes, dazzling firework exhibitions, and the sharing of traditional foods such as toffee apples, bonfire toffee, and baked potatoes wrapped in foil and cooked over the fire. Families and friends come together to revel in the spectacle, enjoying the warmth of the bonfires and the spectacular bursts of colorful fireworks. 


Best firework displays in the UK

Firework display in the UK


But you must see it to believe it! Here are five of the most popular Bonfire Night events in the UK: 

  • Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations, East Sussex: renowned for its grand procession and fiery displays, this event draws thousands of spectators each year 
  • Alexandra Palace Fireworks Festival, London: with a stunning view of the city, this event offers a mix of fireworks, live music, and a winter festival atmosphere 
  • Roundhay Park Bonfire Night, Leeds: one of the largest bonfire events in the region, featuring a colossal bonfire and spectacular fireworks  
  • Heaton Park Bonfire and Fireworks Display, Manchester: known for its family-friendly atmosphere, this event offers various entertainment options and a breathtaking fireworks display 
  • Glasgow Green Fireworks Display, Glasgow: a vibrant celebration with impressive fireworks, accompanied by live music and a festive carnival atmosphere 


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Bonfire night glossary

Bonfire Night remains an integral part of the cultural fabric of the UK, serving as a testament to the resilience of the country's historical traditions and the collective spirit of its people. Learn about popular Bonfire Night phrases and words in our glossary below: 

Bonfire Night: popular name that refers to the bonfire used to represent the burning of parliament  

Guy Fawkes Night: popular name based on the historical figure from which the event comes from 

Firework Night: popular name based on the fireworks that often accompany the celebrations 

Firework Display: this is a firework show that communities or local governments fund 

Firework festival: some communities host parades or processions in the build-up to the firework display 


English phrases to use on bonfire night

“Let’s gather round the bonfire” 

“The different colors the fireworks in the sky are so beautiful” 

“Would you like a toffee apple?” 

“The lights are so much brighter in the dark” 

“I’m having a great Bonfire Night with all of you!” 

Why not experience Bonfire Night for yourself and improve your English skills at the same time by studying at our English schools in the UK?! Discover Kaplan’s outstanding English schools across vibrant cities such as London, Edinburgh, Bath, Manchester and more! 


That way, when you turn up to your next Bonfire Night event, you’ll be talking like a native! 


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