Every year on the 5th of November, countless Scots gather after dark. People watch the spectacle unfold with fingers wrapped around hot cups of mulled wine or hot chocolate, children and adults tightly bundled in thick scarves, hats and coats. Fireworks light up the sky in an array of colours and the darkness is kept at bay as massive bonfires blaze for hours. But why do people in Scotland still mark the 5th of November this way? What’s the history, and what’s the meaning? Read on for our short article on Bonfire Night in Scotland
Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Bonfire Night takes place on the 5th of November. It is actually a celebration of a failed attempt in 1605 to blow up the House of Lords and assassinate King James I/VI. James was King of Scotland as James VI, but also King of England and Ireland as James I after the union of the crowns and his reign was known as the Jacobean era.
James’s survival was celebrated with bonfires, and it was an act of parliament in 1606 that saw the Observance of the 5th of November made law.
Although it’s no longer obligatory to celebrate the 5th of November, many still do across the United Kingdom. A Bonfire Night celebration usually consists of an outdoor gathering with a sizable bonfire, a fireworks display, children armed with sparklers, and plenty of hot food and drink.
Bonfire Night, Guy Fawkes Night, and Fireworks Night are one and the same. They are all different names for the bonfire celebrations on the 5th of November. The event gets referred to as Guy Fawkes night because of his role in the Gunpowder Plot. Guy Fawkes was but one of the many conspirators involved in the Gunpowder Plot, yet the one most associated with it and its failure. After an anonymous tip, Guy was found guarding the explosives set to blow up the House of Lords. Guy Fawkes and other plot members were captured, found guilty and sentenced to death.
Over time people started to burn effigies of Guy Fawkes on the fires as well as other notable figures like the Pope and various Prime Ministers.
In short, the Gunpowder Plot was about the British Monarchy and religion. A small group of English Catholics wanted to assassinate King James I/VI, a protestant king, in the hopes of restoring a Catholic head of state and ending Catholic persecution.
As in England, it was once the law to celebrate Bonfire Night – a law that was only abolished in 1859. Over 250 years of tradition are not easily let go. Happily, the anti-Catholic connotations have now subsided. The evening is now a merry one that marks history. Why is it still celebrated? It depends on who you ask. Some people just like the excuse to get together, light a big fire and eat tasty food. In contrast, others consider it a reminder that treason should not be forgotten or forgiven. Still, others mark not the failed aspect of the assassination in 1604, but the attempt itself.
A proper Bonfire Night features, you guessed it, a bonfire. Fireworks are almost certainly a given these days, as well as children running wild with sparklers, glow sticks and other paraphernalia that lights up.
Environmental, as well as safety concerns mean that recent years have seen more restrictions on bonfires, with their presence and their size being more regulated. Bonfires will now be fenced off, closely watched, and the fire service will be in attendance if not informed. More environmentally fireworks are used; alternatively, people have opted for light shows or drone performances.
Food and drink are a big part of the evening as well. Standing around, loitering in the dark, waiting for a firework display calls for a hot bevvy and a snack. Expect food trucks and stands serving mulled wine, hot toddies, hot chocolate, tea, coffee, soup, baked potatoes, hot dogs, candied apples, and marshmallows galore.
Depending on where you are, you can join a public fire display or a more private gathering. Many communities have controlled bonfires, along with organised fireworks. Usually, these are free of charge, or there is a small charge for attendance. Schools, hotels, charities and businesses also host ticketed events. Check out community Facebook pages for local events, keep an eye on notice boards, or ask your accommodation provider about top tips if you’re visiting from overseas.