Why Americans should love Guy Fawkes night

Burn ointmentEverybody needs a holiday during which you can squirm with anticipation until nightfall, burn your fingers on spent sparklers, and singe your hair while lighting firecrackers. I grew up celebrating Fourth of July in Texas, but I quite like Guy Fawkes Night here in the UK.

Not only does it get darker earlier (hurrah!) but you have that crisp chill in the air and the bloodthirsty backstory. It’s too bad that the effigy thing has faded in recent years. I quite like the idea of throwing someone on the fire and dancing around it. (Too bad you have to keep your clothes on….) On our BritMums blogger network, several members told us who they’d roast.

In recent years there’s been some handwringing in the media that evil ol’ Halloween is edging out Guy Fawkes in people’s hearts and mind. Tell that to my daughter and stepson.

They enjoy Halloween but November 5th is a full-on affair: everyone gets into the act. Dad orchestrates the sparklers and rockets, I buy those boxes of fireworks that you light with one fuse and it goes off like choreography, grandpa and granny provide the back-garden venue in the country and do the appropriate “oohs” and “aahhs”. Alternatively, if we’re in town we make a night of it, attending the school’s fireworks display where 300 kids run around with glowsticks, drinking juice boxes and squealing at the bonfire.

From an outsider perspective, I confess I still don’t entirely “get” celebrating an almost-terrorist act. I think that comes from being an immigrant rather than a native. On the other side, I know that Fourth of July is a Stateside thing, that Halloween is something that, creepily, we Americans do best. Every year my husband asks (again) about the provenance of Thanksgiving, and I’m like, “Wha? I can’t believe you don’t know….” until I remember that during his primary school years he was never once cast as a pilgrim or a curiously acquiescent “Indian”.

Yet while the celebration isn’t hardwired for me, Bonfire Night – with the traditional soup, sausages and jacket potatoes cooked in the fire – is one of those holidays I’ll defend to the death. With each passing year, I learn a little bit more about it and remember the bits that I’ve learned already. I no longer need to be reminded on which day it falls. It’s British, it’s traditional, it involve explosives and the threat of blowing your hand off if your parents aren’t vigilant. Two out of three of those make me feel right at home.

I’m a journalist and blogger. Previously I was The Times’s online lifestyle editor and Alpha Mummy blogger. Now I’m co-founder of BritMums and BritMums Live! – our annual blogging conference that draws hundreds. Follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Google Profile+



  1. November 5, 2011 / 7:34 pm

    I love bonfire night! Glad that even the ‘non-natives’ also find it a pleasant holiday.
    I’m not going to a display this year, just cheekily watching all the neighbours light their hard earned money into the sky instead, from the comfort of my duvet cover!

    • November 6, 2011 / 10:04 am

      Circus Mum, I always knew you were the clever type…

  2. November 5, 2011 / 10:26 pm

    Love it! Judging from this year’s handful of trick or treaters in barely prepared costumes versus the hundreds of people we just saw at Bonfire Night, I don’t think Guy Fawkes has anything to worry about just yet. Heck, when you’ve already been drawn and quartered, how much further can you sink anyway? x

    • November 6, 2011 / 10:06 am

      Guy Fawkes has become almost an icon in recent years, what with that terrible movie, Guido Fawkes the blogger and the St Paul’s campers. Take THAT, jack o’ lanterns.

  3. November 6, 2011 / 12:32 pm

    I love bonfire night more than I love 4th of July, mainly for personal reasons I won’t get into on your blog 🙂

    But as an expat, it’s one British tradition I fully embrace for similar reasons as you.

    • November 6, 2011 / 9:19 pm

      Erica, thanks for the comment. I’d love to hear the backstory – sounds interesting….

      Almost every expat I know really enjoys November 5th. I stock up on fireworks two weeks in advance.

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