Fireworks Day – Bonfire Night – Guy Fawkes Day History and Songs

November 5th is Guy Fawkes Day, one of the most popular holidays in England. Here’s the story of its origin:

In 1605 Guy Fawkes and a group of Catholic co-conspirators, in a famous scheme known as “The Gunpowder Plot”, tried to blow up the British Parliament. They hoped to kill the Protestant King, James I (who was persecuting Catholics at that time).

The conspirators hid gunpowder in the basement of the Parliament building, planning to detonate it around November 6th. Meanwhile, one of the conspirators started having second thoughts, because some of the people in the Parliament were sympathetic to the Catholic cause. He sent a letter to one of the members of parliament tipping him off to the plot.

On November 5th, Guy Fawkes was caught by the king’s men in the basement of the Parliament building. He was soon tortured and gave up the names of his co-conspirators. Later Guy Fawkes was hanged for treason. (It’s interesting to note that this is where the word “guy” comes from, originally meaning someone who looks strange.)

Some historians think the whole plot was actually a set-up, engineered by conservative Protestants, who successfully used the anger the supposed plan generated to encourage more persecution of Catholics.

Nonetheless, on November 5th in Great Britain, for nearly 400 years, children have made effigies of Guy Fawkes and burned them. Bonfires are also lit and fireworks set off.

Here’s a nursery rhyme sung on Guy Fawkes Day

Please remember,
The fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I know no reason,
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

In some towns the holiday is called Bonfire Night. As the kids collect wood for the flames, and also once it has been lit, they dance in a circle around the bonfire singing…

Bonfire night,
The stars are bright,
Every little angel,
Dressed in white.
Can you eat a biscuit?
Can you smoke a pipe?
Can you go a-courting
At 10 o’clock at night?

To all the children in Britain, Happy Bonfire Night!


For more Guy Fawkes Songs, Rhymes and Chants

Please comment below with any stories, songs or nursery rhymes about Guy Fawkes Day.

This article was posted on Friday, November 4th, 2005 at 9:01 pm and is filed under British Children's Songs, Children's Songs, English, English Nursery Rhymes, Guy Fawkes Day Songs, History of Nursery Rhymes, United Kingdom. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

5 Responses to “Fireworks Day – Bonfire Night – Guy Fawkes Day History and Songs”

  1. Magda Says:

    Could you help me to find this song with music? I would like my pupils to work with it.

    My mail is

    Thank you very much.

  2. Lisa Says:

    The first one is chanted. Not sure about the second one…anyone?

    Here’s a version of the 2nd rhyme I found here

    “Bonfire night when the stars shine bright
    Three little angels dressed in white
    One with a fiddle, one with a drum, One with a pancake stuck to its bum …tarara, bum tara”

  3. Lisa Says:

    You can hear the first chant in this video…

  4. Alan Griffiths Says:

    In East Sussex, England, the tradition of Bonfire is still very much alive. There is a distinction between a Fireworks party and true Sussex Bonfire.

    The beginnings of the Bonfire tradition are as you have stated above. In celebration of the discovery of the plot the King ordered bonfires built and lit all over the country. It became a tradition as the event was marked annually. Over time societies formed who were responsible for maintaining the warning beacons around the country and for building the bonfires on November the 5th.

    Move forward in time to 1789 and the French Revolution. The Bonfire Societies had become secretive and they were also getting very political. Not in the way that the British government were happy about. Fearing a similar revolution in Britain, the Bonfire Societies were ordered to disband. They complied. But in East Sussex they kept going in secret.

    The best known of these Bonfires takes place every November 5th, unless it falls on a Sunday, when it is then held on the 4th, and has done since 1605. Between the two world wars and after the second the societies diminished as interest waned. Then in the 1990’s there were many revivals throughout the county, with lots of small towns and villages reclaiming their tradition. Hastings Borough Bonfire Society, are now the second largest event, after Lewis. with up to 25,000 people turning out to watch and participate. Not all bonfires are held on the 5th. The season starts in September and carries onto the end of November. Hastings hold their bonfire on the Saturday closest to the 14th October, the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. For 2016 plus more info, via the links, of the Tradition.

  5. Lisa Says:

    Thanks for sharing all of that info Alan. That’s interesting! -Lisa

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