Bonfire Night 5th November: Learn British Culture

Bonfire Night – 5th of November

‘Remember, remember, the fifth of November,

Gunpowder, treason and plot..’

 These are the opening lines of an English nursery rhyme from around 1870.  This post looks at the history of Bonfire Night…

(words with * are explained at the end.  Full poem below)

Bonfire Night is also known as Fireworks’ Night or Guy Fawkes Night. It is a British tradition* that began in 1605. A group of thirteen Catholic men wanted to destroy the Houses of Parliament and kill the king, James 1.  King James was a protestant and many Catholics believed that the King should also be Catholic.  They wanted to kill him and replace him with a Catholic leader. 

The group of activists put large barrels of gunpowder in the cellars underneath the Houses of Parliament.  Their plan was to wait until the King and members of Parliament were in the House.  Then they planned to  explode the gunpowder and kill everyone inside.


Among the activists was a man named Guy Fawkes.  The Parliament guards  discovered Fawkes guarding* the explosives* and they were able to stop the plot to kill the King .  The people were so happy that the King was safe they lit bonfires around London to celebrate. In January 1606, Parliament passed the Observance of 5th November Act, commonly known as the “Thanksgiving Act”.


People living in large towns began celebrating November the fifth with bonfires and firework displays*.  Even in the smaller towns people celebrated with processions* and drinking.  The clergymen* encouraged the people to see November the 5th as a day of Thanksgiving.  In 1625, King James 1’s son Charles 1 became engaged to be married to Henrietta Maria of France, a Catholic.  Many people were very unhappy as a result.  That year, on November 5th, many people burnt effigies* of the Pope on the bonfires. Many Puritans* wanted the people to fight against the return of Catholicism to Britain. 


This tradition continued for several years until many people began to grow violent.  Because of this, the king banned bonfires and fireworks.  However, celebrations continued and people began to light bonfires again as part of those celebrations.  By around 1745, people began to make effigies* of Guy Fawkes and burn them on the fire.  This became a tradition that continues today.  Around 1790 many children dressed effigies of Fawkes in old clothes and begged for money.  They would shout ‘penny for the guy’ and they would use the money to buy fireworks.  This has continued until the present day although this tradition is dying out* now. 


In more recent times, families lit bonfires in their gardens and let off* fireworks.  However, for health and safety reasons many families do not do this anymore.  Instead, they now go to official firework displays.  Nearly every community holds a display which includes fireworks and the lighting of a bonfire.  Food and sweets are usually sold.


Many Brits today wonder if we celebrate the fact that Guy Fawkes was stopped from blowing up* Parliament or the fact that he tried!


Bonfire night vocabulary check

Tradition: a belief or way of behaving that people in a particular society or group have followed for a long time

Explosives: things that explode – fireworks, bombs etc

Guarding: protecting, looking after

Clergymen: men of the church

Display: show

Processions: A large group of people walking through the streets as part of a ceremony

Effigy: A model or other object representing someone, usually someone hated

Puritans: Members of an English religious group in the 16 and 17th centuries.  They believed that religion should be simple and pleasure was unnecessary.

Die out: to slowly stop something  

Let off: to light fireworks to make them explode

Blow up: make something explode

English nursery rhyme

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,

The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,

I know of no reason

Why the Gunpowder Treason

Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent

To blow up the King and Parli’ment.

Three-score barrels of powder below,

Poor old England to overthrow;

By God’s providence he was catch’d (or by God’s mercy*)

With a dark lantern and burning match.

Holla boys, Holla boys, let the bells ring.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

And what should we do with him? Burn him!


Further reading about Bonfire Night and Guy Fawkes



ID:10053277  Walpurgis Night bonfire 104
@ Kassandra2


ID: 95138730 Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot.
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1 thought on “Bonfire Night 5th November: Learn British Culture”

  1. Hello Lisa.
    Thank you for showing us so well your mother tounge. There’s to much knowledge in this blog. You’re a very good teacher.
    Keep on this way.

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