Ally Pally Fireworks
Fireworks at Ally Pally
Photo by aztaki

If you’re visiting England right now, or are a new arrival like me, you may be wondering why the hell people have been setting off fireworks every night since Hallowe’en.

I know I was.

Long story short, it’s because of Bonfire Night – or Guy Fawkes Night – which is basically an excuse for Britons to set things on fire (as if they needed another one…), run around with sparklers, and have firework displays.

Basically Bonfire Night is the closest thing to the 1st (or 4th for the Americans) of July a country that is so confident in its knowledge that it definitely is its own country it doesn’t have to celebrate ‘United Kingdom Day’ and that has never needed to get independence from an imperial nation in about the last thousand years that it doesn’t have an Independence Day.

Bonfire Night in Victoria Park Photo by Shane Global
Bonfire Night in Battle, England
Photo by Shane Global

Instead, in typically morbid British fashion, they light bonfires and burn effigies of a man named Guy Fawkes.

Guy Fawkes was the leader of the Gunpowder Plot – a conspiracy hatched by English Catholics to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London and assassinate Protestant King James I. Fawkes was guarding the explosives hidden under the Parliament buildings when he was arrested on November 5, 1605.

So happy were the citizens of England with this failure, they lit bonfires and celebrated into the night. I suppose that Bonfire Night is a little more like Thanksgiving in that way – I mean there’s no turkey and stuff (just toffee apples, baked potatoes, and bonfire toffee) – but it would appear that most people are pretty thankful the Catholics didn’t take back the country…

The Parliament of England also passed an act called the Observance of 5th November Act 1605 – or the “Thanksgiving Act”, so I think that solidifies the analogy.

Get as excited as you want because after Christmas and New Year’s there are no more fun holidays to celebrate besides some phenomenon known as Bank Holidays*. And probably the Queen’s birthday.

So, how did I mark this glorious occasion?

Fairground built into Ally Pally for Bonfire Night 2005 Photo by Eu Koc
Fairground built into Ally Pally for Bonfire Night 2005
Photo by Eu Koc

With fireworks!

For the first time in four years, Alexandra Palace in north London hosted a Fireworks Festival, which included street food, ice skating, live entertainment and a German bier hall. It’s walking distance from where I’m currently living, but, silly me, I didn’t buy a ticket before they sold out.

I showed up to Ally Pally to watch the fireworks anyway and I had a lovely time with my partner, only kind of freezing thanks to the new second-hand duffel coat I bought from Oxfam. Success!

The Borough of Haringey probably won’t be getting any new roundabouts or potholes filled this year – but it was quite the show!


  • Note: I’m being slightly hyperbolic for effect here – I realize that people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and May Day and so on…

7 thoughts on “What the Heck is Bonfire Night?”

  1. I’ve heard about Guy Fawkes Day but I had no idea that it such a big deal in the UK! I thought it was just another one of those long weekend type of holidays that no one really does anything for – like Remembrance Day or Labour Day here. The things you learn eh 😉

  2. I am living in New Zealand right now, and they celebrate it here also. I had to ask my WWOOFer hosts “what the heck is Guy Fawkes Night?”. Looks like you had a fun night 🙂

    1. It’s a very interesting concept, and I read that it was even celebrated in the US, you know, before that pesky war of independence 😛

      Thanks for your comment, Kate!

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