Bonfire Night, often called Guy Fawkes Night in Britain, is celebrated on or near 5th November. It’s a festival of remembrance, a time to look back on a past that, fascinating as it is to study and imagine, would have been a mad, bad time to be alive.
The whole religious conflict of the 16th and 17th Century takes far more explanation and back story than I am prepared to write here and now. This Wikipedia entry explains the history of Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night throughout history. I know in the past it’s had murky meanings underlying its celebration, but in recent decades the night became a reason to have a bonfire and watch fireworks, with little or no reference to the history mentioned beyond the bare facts, that a plot against the King and government had been foiled.
Honestly, I think people just wanted an excuse to watch fireworks and any untidy historical significance was brushed under the carpet, except in places like Lewes in Sussex where an effigy relevant to whomever is the Big Bad Person of the Year is still voted on and placed on top of the bonfire. I haven’t seen an old fashioned guy, by which I mean a ragtag assortment of clothes stuffed and with a paper plate face being hawked around by a gang of lads asking for money (Penny for the Guy) in absolute ages, until last year when I saw a local immigrant family doing it outside a shop. It was obvious they’d heard of it as a British custom, and were doing it to get a bit of money. The ingenuity of the exercise made me smile: I slipped some coins in and thought back to my teenage years, when some group of lads in the village could always be relied on to stuff a pair of their sister’s tights and an old knackered jumper, shove it in a wheelbarrow and try to cadge extra cash. Such entrepreneurial instincts deserve to be rewarded. I hope those children grow up into business men who make, and give, money freely.
And so to modern times, when there are no more guys, and any political significance to Bonfire Night is only mentioned in terms of V for Vendetta, when Councils and Authorities have taken on the running of fireworks displays for health and safety reasons, and bonfires no longer sit on the shabby wasteland at the end of terraced houses for weeks, being collected and built up and finally set alight as dusk turns into dark night. The big events, often run for charity with entrance fees and stalls selling fairground food, have been cancelled this year and Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Night looks set to be overshadowed, as always recently, by its older, deeper sister of Hallowe’en.
I’m not prepared to let it slide by without acknowledgement so here, for your delectation and delight, are ways to commemorate the evening. Of course, safety always comes first so make sure you do exercise caution if you do anything involving fire. Some of these activities are child-friendly, others are decidedly adult only.
Read up on Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot.
There’s a witticism that goes “Guy Fawkes was the last person to enter Parliament with Honest Intentions”. It gives me a wry smile every time. But knowing who Guy Fawkes was and why it’s his name that’s attached to a plot where he was a hired hand can help us understand why the Stuart Monarchy and later Governments were keen to promote the evening as a time to remember.
I found this documentary, The Gunpowder Plot fronted by Richard Hammond (and I apologise for the regular adverts) useful watching with my teenagers. It explains the history behind the plot, why it failed and also what would have happened if it had succeeded in a way that most teenagers will appreciate. There is a big explosion at the end that really is impressive.
Adults and over-15s will enjoy Gunpowder, a dramatised version of events starring Kit Harrington and following the plot from start to finish. And, fully up to date on the events and the reasons, you’re ready to press on.
Replace an external Firework Display with something (much) smaller.
It’s possible to buy table top, indoor fireworks. These are essentially small amounts of gunpowder with salts added to change flame colour or other chemicals to provide a reaction. If you use them, cover the table well with thick and old towels or cloths, keep the fireworks safe and don’t let children handle them. They don’t make the fizzes and bangs of massive firework displays, but they do make a lot of noise in a small area. Keep windows open, and ventilate well afterwards.
Sparklers, used sensibly, can add interest to a firework evening. Take your group outside for sparklers, of course. Make sure everybody wears gloves, make sure the children are old enough to understand about heat and danger, and maintain constant vigilence. If your party is old enough, use a camera with a long shutter speed, or one that you can control, and try writing with the sparkler to get a fire writing photo. Joined up writing works best, and mounting the camera or phone on a tripod for stability helps as well.
Spend part of the Evening Outside as a picnic.
Use a firepit, if you have one, or wrap up well and stand outside to watch any local fireworks. I live in a really suburban area, so I can guarantee some really loud fireworks going off all evening. It’s havoc for the local pets, but the youngsters like it. We used to take mugs of soup out to sip and watch, but we also like sausage barms and bacon butties.
Using either a firepit or a barbecue, it’s possible to cook your bonfire tea as well. Baked potatoes or apples and bananas, wrapped in foil, cook well in the embers around the outside of the fire while campfire bread, cooked on a stick in the flames, can be a great experience. You can find a recipe for it here.
If you have no garden, could you turn off all the lights inside and sit at a big window to catch any fireworks or take the car and drive around to find a good spot to watch? Find an elevated patch of land looking over a dense area of housing, or a space clear of large trees at least for a good view.
Be Inspired by Guy Fawkes to Take a Stand and Act.
For some people, the Gunpowder Plot was an act of terrorism, for others it was part of a fight for freedom. Perception matters in politics,and I am not going to take a side. Mostly because I don’t think the fight that Guy Fawkes was involved in is a fight we need in the UK now. There are different issues that need support and action.
Hygge doesn’t usually involve politics, and I’m naming no names or advocating no causes here, but when the fire has died down and the burnt out fireworks have been cleared off the lawn, then it may be time for you to add action to enjoyment. Firework Night can be a good place to start difficult conversations with teenagers or young adults. What causes do they support? What actions could they take to support them? Are there any organisations to support or join that press for the cause or charity they identify? All it takes for evil to prosper is for good men/women to do nothing, as the saying goes.
And, though the causes you all identify may not be hygge, there’s no reason why acting for them can’t be sometimes. Write letters or emails together, create badges or placards for marches, use craft skills to create goods to sell and support. If you’ve identified a charity that needs support, could you all pledge to buy cards from them to send this Christmas? Or that you could buy gifts from charity shops instead of new to gift each other?
And remember, you can always pick a Charity that the whole family support on November 5th as your Charity for Christmas and concentrate as a family on doing stuff, raising money, donating time for that charity. Having family time that helps others and yourselves… win/win, I think.
Use Bonfire Night as a Staging Post for Christmas.
When I was younger… and then as a teacher… I used to love Dorothy Edwards My Naughty Little Sister stories. I used them in school as seasonal stories, very often. The Christmas Story with Father Christmas, the Birthday Party with Bad Harry and, one of my favourites, The Bonfire Pudding. My Naughty Little Sister (unnamed heroine/villain) hated fireworks, so her parents wold send her to her Grandma’s house where the two of them would mix and cook the puddings for Christmas, so fully occupied that they never noticed the whizzes and bangs outside. You can find that story in When My Naughty Little Sister Was Good.
I love that it was obviously one of Grandma’s staging posts for Christmas, like a fixed point leading to the Great Winter Festival. If you’re not into fireworks or fires, then use the evening as a signpost. It’s a good time to make the pudding or a full bodied Christmas Cake, but you could also use it as the day to start writing Christmas Cards, a good time to plan presents (if you’re not totally organised) or a night to collect together all the Christmas editions of your favourite magazines and plan menus, events and more. This year the events may be limited, but the principle remains the same. Use the evening to start planning ahead and filling in dates for Christmas…. two weeks isolation before seeing Mum, another two weeks to be sure we’re clear before Aunt Carol… these are strange times, and we move with them.
Avoid the Noise, Avoid the Bangs and Go Inside (Mentally or physically)
If you’re still not convinced that Bonfire Night has anything to offer you, use the night as a time of reflection and inner work. Use the symbolism of the fire (regeneration in the phoenix, the destruction of past issues, a cleansing and creative force) to set your intentions for the months ahead.
Either light a fire in a firepit or fireplace, or at the very least use a candle or collection of candles to give you a flame to study. Sit quietly, concentrating on letting your thoughts float in and through your mind, and let peace flood your body. Use the stillness of your brain to consider what you need to do over the next few months, let thoughts rise up, and drop down. Use a pad to capture ideas too good to miss, and to record the missed opportunities you kick yourself for. Release those missed opportunities by burning that page, but give strength to the intentions you set by writing them somewhere you will see them often. Make your intentions realistic, and keep them in your heart. The next few months will be difficult (second wave Covid in real life or panic will become a bigger issue) and a person who can find peace even in the darkest hour will benefit not only themselves but those who rely on them.
If you’d like to support me….
I don’t monetise my blog. I don’t run adverts, take sponsorship for writing posts or use affiliate links. I want everything I do on this blog and in my hygge life outside to be truthful. If I promote a book it’s because I’ve read it and like it, if I point out an item it’s because it’s impressed me on its own merits and not because the publicist has talked me into it. It does mean I don’t run giveaways and I’m not chasing followers, but the drawback is that I need to find a way to support myself.
That’s why I write books. My thoughts are that if I ask you to buy a book not only does it support me, and let me keep writing as an independent writer, but you get something back for your bucks. I’ve written several books, some on Hygge, some on Christmas. If you like what you read here, or in the Hygge Nook, and you’d like to support a struggling writer, would you please consider buying a book? E-books give you the best value, since for 2 or 3 pounds you get the whole content of the book without paying the extra for paper production, but I’d be a pretty poor writer if I didn’t appreciate the beauty of a real book in the hand. If you buy even just one book, it all adds up in the end to support me, and I’d be so grateful.
My latest book, Celebrating a Contagious Christmas, is available on Amazon now as an ebook and, by popular demand, a paperback. It’s about the adjustments we’ll have to make to our usual Christmas celebrations if we’re in Lockdown come December, how illness or employment may make a difference and how we have to spread hope, not germs, in an attempt to keep the world on an even keel.
Cosy Happy Hygge is available as an ebook or a paperback on Amazon now. It’s about using rhythm and ritual to make your life a gentler, kinder place. Writing it has been an important part of my mental health recovery.
My first three books are hygge related, 50 Ways to Hygge the British Way was my first book, and is available in Paperback and Kindle version. It’s a simple look at ways to feel more hyggely in life and at home even though we’re not Danish and don’t have it in our DNA. Although it was inspired by the blog, it’s completely original work and not collected blogposts. It will probably be updated and an improved second edition coming in Spring 2021.
Happier is my fourth book. It’s about how I boost my own happiness levels. It’s full of hints, tips and ideas for you to use and adapt to suit your own situation. It is available in ebook and paperback version from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
I have three Christmas books,
Have Yourself a Happy Hygge Christmas was released in September 2017 and is available again in paperback and ebook version. It looks at keeping the Christmas season warm and cosy, with ideas for activities and routines to keep Christmas happy.
A (Hygge) Christmas Carol is my look at Dickens’ immortal classic and the many lessons we still learn from it today. It contains the full text of the book as well as hyggely thoughts on the story.
Enjoying a Self Care Christmas is only available in e-book version. It’s about keeping Christmas simple enough and healthy enough to keep you sane in the process. I’m hoping to do a series of Self Care through the year books.
If you already have my books, or just want to support me as an independent writer, you can always just send me the price of a cup of coffee as a friend, to paypal.me/HyggeJem . I tend to use a lot (all) of my spare cash on books that I review for the website, so every penny donated goes towards building my happy hygge life.
If you buy any of the books or some of the items through the links on this page, I get a couple of extra pence per copy, as an Amazon Affiliate, in Amazon vouchers which go towards buying more books to review for the blog. I’d really love it if you’d support me monetarily, but I quite understand that cash is tight for many people, and I just love having your support via reading and commenting as well.
Truthfully, I’ll probably never make a living as a writer, but I do make a little extra income that gets ploughed back into books and magazines. One obsession feeds the other.