The Culture of Bonfire Night: Where did it all begin?

By Jason White

 ‘Remember, remember the fifth of November.’

Every year on the fifth of November families and friends in Stirling brave the dip in temperatures to go and stand around a bonfire and watch a firework display, but why is this and why on this date every year?

Bonfire Night is a tradition that stretches back 100’s of years and has been celebrated in Stirling for the last 40, with the Bridge of Allan and Stirling Round Table community organising the celebrations, but its history lays back in 1605 after the failed Gunpowder plot.


Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot

Despite being born with two Protestant parents, Guy Fawkes converted to Catholicism as a teenager which at the time was illegal under Elizabeth I’s reign.

In 1592, he fought for the Catholic forces in Spain, who were fighting the Protestant Dutch, where he was promoted to Captain.

But in 1603, he travelled back to Spain in to petition to wage war against England by Catholic King Philip III, a petition which was declined.

As a result, Fawkes met Thomas Wintour, another disgruntled English Catholic man, and together with 11 other men they developed the Gunpowder plot, an attempt to overthrow James I as King and replace him with a Catholic alternative.

They planned to blow up parliament and to do this, they got hold of 36 barrels of gunpowder and stored it in the cellar under the House of Lords.

Guy Fawkes being caught under the House of Lords protecting the barrels of Gunpowder. -Source:

The plan would take place when the King opened parliament on 5 November 1605 but it was foiled the day before, when authorities got hold of a letter warning them of the plans and Fawkes was caught in the cellar protecting the barrels.

Bonfires were set alight to celebrate this failure, starting the tradition of Bonfire Night.


How has the tradition changed?

Bonfire Night in Scotland has been a community wide event since the 20th century with the setting off of fireworks considered a tongue in cheek nod to Guy Fawkes.


Firework display at Bridge of Allan Bonfire Night 2019

However, with these events now happening all over the country, the political message has moved into the backburner as it becomes a much more family friendly event according to Garry Freckleton, Chairman of the Stirling and Bridge of Allan Round Table.

“I don’t think people think about it too deeply, some people might see it as a political thing, Guy Fawkes and all that and some people just like a real good fire and a bunch of fireworks, it’s just a good family event and to have such a big community event put on makes a difference.”

The Stirling and Bridge of Allan event has always been family friendly and locals who attend, all believe it helps bring family and friends together while also being seen as the start of the Christmas season.

“I celebrate Bonfire Night as it’s a great time to bring the family together. You can just all sit back and watch the fireworks, I love the colours, the night and the sounds.” Said Dorothy Ferguson.

While Matthew Pollock said, “Bonfire Night signifies to me the winter and Christmas coming. I used to watch the fireworks every year when I was younger with my family. It’s important to me as it is a yearly event that I spent with family and friends.”

Despite the festival being full of historic and political meaning, there has now been a shift into a family friendly event as those who have grew up watching it as a kid remember spending it with their families and be a part of the community by going to one of the many arranged events all over the country.

Also, despite its history within British culture, it isn’t just in Britain where the event is celebrated, as families come together in the old British colonies of New Zealand and Canada, but the extent of the celebrations change per place.


Bridge of Allan fireworks 2019.

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