guy Dominic Alves

In 1605 a dastardly plot to blow up the House of Lords and subsequently murder King James I was uncovered, and Guy Fawkes was arrested for being an active member of the plan. It was his task to guard the gunpowder that was to be used, but an anonymous tip lead the authorities to search Westminster Palace and Fawkes was discovered. The failure of the scheme has been celebrated since then with a variety of events ranging from children begging for "pennies for the Guy" to burning effigies in public.

Although the origins of the tradition may have been forgotten by most celebrants, the dark of November 5th is a good time to have a party -- so the events continue.

If the weather is cooperative, many people pay homage to the capture of Guy Fawkes by lighting a small bonfire in their backyard. This is usually accompanied by plenty of food (cooked in the fire, if possible) and  a few drinks lifted in honor of King James, Queen Elizabeth -- and undoubtedly a few to Guy Fawkes and the failed revolution.

Fireworks in London Docklandsboy

The Alexandra Palace Fireworks Festival is complete with rides for the kids, street food and a beer village for the grownups. Adults can choose to start the fun a little early by hitting the German Bier Festival in Alexandra Palace’s Great Hall and enjoy some sausage and oompah bands before the evening festivities open. The highlight of the celebration is the fireworks that start at dark and light up the skies over London.

The fireworks at Blackheath are free, although they welcome a donation to defray expenses. This event is very popular and always crowded. Arrive early and take advantage of the food stalls that are set up.

The events at Morden Park traditionally start with a bonfire and a small fireworks display for children followed by a much louder display for the adults. Rides and food are usually in evidence and it’s easy to make a full evening of it there.

The Lord Mayor’s Show doesn’t happen until the weekend because it’s too big to fit into a weeknight. Thousands of people, horses, bands and floats process from Mansion House, winding their way through the streets to the Royal Court of Justice before continuing on to St Paul’s Cathedral. The event is as much a celebration of the newly elected mayor as it is about Guy Fawkes.

Lewes Bonfire Celebration

If you want to find the biggest event in the UK, Lewes is your best bet, but you’ll want to arrive early because they literally shut down the town. Streets are closed and many of the pubs become “ticket only” entrances.

The town suggests that you leave small children at home and plan to party with the adults amids processions and bonfires; it’s loud, smoky and really just not a place for kids. Multiple Bonfire Societies vie to be the best and each has its own procession route. Some groups join up and continue on with costumes, bonfires, fireworks and unique displays. The rivalry is friendly (mostly) be things can get a bit out of hand. In honour of the 17 martyrs burnt at the stake in 1555, 17 crosses are burned during Bonfire Night. In fact, all the events that take place are not for the benefit of the public, but enacted in remembrance of history. The public is welcome to watch, but don’t mistake this for a fair.

Other Displays

There are fireworks and festivals all over the UK and if you don’t happen to be in London or Lewes you may be able to catch one of these.

Cambridge has fireworks, a bonfire, fire dancers and a fair that lasts until 10 pm.

North Tyneside puts on the biggest firework display in northeast England at the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall.

Kent starts their party with fire juggling, fire breathing and other daring displays. At the end of the day, fireworks are set off above 900-year-old Leeds Castle.

Aberdeen has their festival on the beach and it starts with a firewalk across hot coals. Add in some fire juggling and fireworks set to music and the party is on.

Glasgow also puts on a great show with a fair, live entertainment and fireworks and it all takes place in the oldest park in the city.