Guy Fawkes Day Celebration Rituals

Contemporary In London bonfires were lit to celebrate the discovery of the plot soon after Fawkes was discovered in 1605. In Gloucestershire, it began in 1607 in Bristol. In the United States the holiday was celebrated as "Pope's Day" as early as the 17th century at Plymouth. Its celebration in the United States helped organize citizens of the Colonies into anti-stamp act demonstrations. In the 19th century "London was so lit up by bonfires and fireworks, that from the suburbs it looked in one red-heat"-Hone,1827. How should you celebrate? Check out our main menu . The history of celebrations is on  our Celebrations page.  Join in! The Celebration of the Plot remains significant even today- and besides it is fun! Read on to learn what you must do!

Main Menu The Essentials:

Mischief Night Torches Bonfire Food Chants Processions Sermons
The Bells Fire Works Guys Tar


Riot Pew Beating Celebration History
Beat folks
With Sinews

Perform or go to a Pantomime
Smug a Guy or a Man for a Guy!
About the Famous Mask
Give to the Poor

                      Pin On a Bonfire Badge! We now collect badges Click here to view the collection.

Before You Can Celebrate the 5th You must have Mischief Night on the 4th!
Here is how:
Iona and Peter Opie describe Mischief Night customs in their work: The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, Oxford, Clarendon,1961.pp.277-280
This celebration finds children up to lots of pranks: Removing Gates, daubing windows with paint, coating doorknobs with treacle, tapping windows, stuffing drainpipes with paper and setting them alight, filling tin cans with ashes and hanging them on doorknobs and of course tying door knobs to rope and knocking on the door and holding the other end till finally letting it go so the person opening it falls on his back! Great fun! Go to it! This is also a good night to steal wood for your bonfire and light your rival's bonfire early. But whatever you do -stay legal and safe! 

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First some Torches to Light Your Way

Peter Williams has created a wonderful presentation detailing the manufacture of traditional Guy Fawkes Day Torches.We have images of  the process from the Hastings Bonfire Society. Please send us your contributions click to e.mail. These are truly wonderful and light up the night sky. They are absolutely essential! Click here to learn how to make them! 

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Give to the Poor

Between 1617 and 1623, a parish in  Dorchester made the Fifth of November a day of giving.  It gave, a total about £100 –  for the construction of a hospital (a shelter), for  the religious education and  vocational education of the poor . Common and elite contributed. Later  the same congregation gave to those in need, the children living at the hospital received a large number of Bibles, primers,and Testaments and were, in gratitude, made to walk in fine, new clothing to St.Peter’s Church for the Gunpowder Treason service. Later  in the 1630s, families and parishes  in Braintree, and other parts of Essex, gave alms to the poor on the Fifth of November, in remembrance of the Gunpowder Plot.

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1603- After the sun setting there were usually made bonfires in the streets, every man bestowing wood or labour towards them. The wealthier sort . . . would [moreover] set out tables on the vigils, furnished with sweet bread and good drink, and [then] on the festival days [would provide] meat[s] and drinks plentifully, whereunto they would invite . . . neighbours and passengers also to sit and be merry with them in great familiarity, praising God . . . [Here one found] good amity amongst neighbours, that being before at controversy were there by the labour of others reconciled, and made of bitter enemies, loving friends.

-Charles Lethbridge Kingsford, ed., A Survey of London by John Stow (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1908),
101, 283.

Bonfires have always been just as important as the Guy. They are ancient rituals of celebration which have been present from the earliest times in the British Isles and throughout Europe. Just think- in ancient times - the value of free light and heat-a fire for cooking too-at night for one and all provided by local politicians or the royals-that must have been quite a treat for all concerned Read all about bonfires their history and meaning click here. Get your bonfire going and make it big -these things are generally huge and spectacular. But there is nothing better than a warm fire no matter how small on a cool November evening. Interested in bonfires? . Some favorite sites for bonfires are 
Bomb Link The streets ,The cathedral grounds,  The outskirts of town  On a hill -Take your pick! 

William Hone Wrote about London Bonfires in 1827:

"The "Guy is the last thing thought of, "the bonfire" the first. About this time ill is sure to betide the owner of an ill-secured fence; stakes are extracted from hedges, and branches torn from trees; crack, crack, goes loose paneling; deserted buildings yield up their floorings; unbolted flip-flapping  doors are released from their hinges as supernumeraries; and more burnables are deemed lawful prize than the law allows.  These are secretly stored in some enclosed place which other "collectors" cannot find, or dare not venture to invade....In such times, the burning of  " a good Guy" was a scene of uproar unknown to the present day.  The bonfire in Lincoln's Inn Fields was of this superior order of disorder. It was made at the Great Queen -street corner, immediately opposite Newcastle-house.  Fuel came all day long in carts properly guarded against surprise: old people have remembered when upwards of two-hundred cart-loads were brought to make and feed this bonfire, and more than thirty "Guys" were burnt upon gibbets between eight and twelve o'clock at night."- The Every-Day Book.1429+

Composition of Bonfire:

Bomb Link Use anything combustible. Try an aggregate of::  Wood  Coal , Central tree trunk,  Paper, Cardboard , Wooden boxes, Clothing , Mattresses,  Furniture, Tires  Take your pick! By the way the act of collecting wood for bonfires has its own name: chumping (Yorkshire dialect)   meaning collecting wood (chump being the wood) . In Lancashire gathering wood for Bonfire Night is called "Cob Coaling". In other areas the activity is called progging, plotting and bonny-stocking.

For More about Bonfires: 

BombLink What are these "Bonfire Societies? I want to make a good fire How? Bonfire Societies, and Bonfires! Send us your Pictures!. 

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The Guys

Burning of the Guy (an effigy) began in the 18th century and became an important aspect central to the holiday in the 19th. In the USA you can save a few scarecrows from Halloween. In Linthicum the Guy is joined by our favorite politicians and people of scandal. Some guys are quite elaborate and are stuffed with fireworks. In the 18th century effigies of the Pope, the Young Pretender and especially Devils were very popular. Before they are burned they are marched through the city streets. In The British Isles children set out their guy to collect pennys which they use to purchase fireworks. So set your guy out and call to one and all "penny for the guy!" and remember Guy Fawkes and his Bravery! Here are some suggestions for building your very own Guy. 

Bomb Link   Use three colors for coat, waistcoat, and trousers. Make the figure look clumsy.  Add a villanous-looking head.  Add a brightly colored mask.  Top it with a tall, conical brimmed, 17th century hat.  Put a lantern in one arm.  Put matches in the other. 
Give it a try! There are some great ideas and pictures at the link below! Have Fun! 
vlam Link All About how to make Guys ! and the History of the Effigy Ritual
 Send us a picture of your favorite or Guy!
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Chants and Songs

Chants and songs are absolutely essential! Print them out and hand them to your guests to learn. Shouting in the night air will bring the festivities to life and some of the neighbors as well. (we did tell you to always invite the neighbors didn't we?). Chants and songs give your celebration people power!

vlam Link Then move on to some rousing chants! Traditional sayings great for building spirit! Remember, remember to have Chants! 

vlam Link A Commemorative Song! 
Campion's Bravely Deckt from 1613
vlam Link Nothing like a few songs by the fire! 
Traditional music -Folksongs....

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Fireworks (Bangers!)

Fireworks have been a tradition since 1677.   Use whatever you can get away with or purchase with money collected for your Guy. Remember to collect a "penny for the guy?"-That is how you get the money for the fireworks! Read of an early Gunpowder Plot fireworks display click here If you are interested in 17th century fireworks you might want to read the following: 
Francis Malthus., A treatise of Artificial  Fire-Works, both  fore  Warres and Recreation. (London, 1629) 

Nathaniel  Nye., The Art of Gunnery., London, 1670).

John White. A Rich Cabinet, with Variety of Inventions..Whereunto is added a variety of Recreative Fire-Works, both for Land, Aire, and Water. (London, 1651)

Squibs are fun too! They are hand held roman candle like fireworks!
All about gunpowder as it relates to: fireworks, the plot and times can be found here

BombLink New! Enjoy Some Virtual Fireworks Click here

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Tar Barrels

Bomb Link Light them.  Kick them about till they fall to pieces. 
Roll them down High Street-throw them in a river! 
Give it a go! 

"Ottery St. Mary is internationally renowned for its Tar Barrels, an old custom said to have originated in the 17thcentury. Each of Ottery's central public houses sponsors a single barrel. In the weeks prior to the day of the event, November 5th, the barrels are soaked with tar. The barrels are lit outside each of the pubs in turn and once the flames begin to pour out, they are hoisted up onto local people's backs and shoulders. The streets and alleys  around the pubs are packed with people, all eager to feel the lick of the barrels flame. Seventeen Barrels all in all are lit over the course of the evening. In the afternoon and early evening there are women's and boy's barrels, but as the evening progresses the barrels get larger and by midnight they weigh at least 30 kilos. A great sense of camaraderie exists between the 'Barrel Rollers', despite the fact that they tussle constantly for supremacy of the  barrel. In most cases, generations of the same family carry the barrels and take great pride in doing so. It perpetuates Ottery St Mary's great sense of tradition, of time and of history. 
     Opinion differs as to the origin of this festival of fire, but the most widely accepted version is that it began as a pagan ritual that cleanses the streets of evil spirits. It is an incredible night to remember - one of the biggest bonfires in the South West is ignited on the banks of the River Otter and behind it are the flashing neon's of the annual fair."

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Bell Ringing

The Fifth is often called "Ringing Night." Many a church bell get rung on this night. Pay the ringers well and give them drinks. Interested in traditional English churchbell ringing? Check out the links !  We also have a history of Guy Fawkes bell ringing traditions on our Celebrations page. To learn more about bell ringing you might wish to check some of these sources: 

Ernest Morris. The History and Art of Change Ringing., (1931) 

Jean Sanderson (ed.)., Change Ringing: The History of an English Art., (1987) 

Richard Duckworth,  Tintinnalogia (1668) 

Fabian Stedman, Campanalogia (1667) 

J.J. Raven.,Bells of England.,(1906)

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  Smug a Guy or A man for a Guy!

""in my youthful days," "When Guy met Guy-then came the tug of war!  The partisans fought, and a decided victory ended in the capture of the "Guy" belonging to the vanquished. Sometimes desperate bands, who omitted, or were destituted of the means to make "Guys" went forth like "Froissart's knights" upon adventures." An enterprise of this sort was called" Going to smug a Guy".  that is, to steal one by "force of arms," fists, and sticks, from its rightful owners.  These partisans were always successful, for they always attacked the weak..." 

"On the fifth of November, a year or two ago, an outrageous sparkle of humour broke forth.  A poor hard-working man, while at breakfast in his garret, was enticed from it by a message that some one who knew him wished to speak to him at the street door.  When he got there he was shaken hands with, and invited to a chair.  He had scarcely said "nay" before "the ayes had him," and clapping him in the vacant seat, tied him there. They then painted his face to their liking, put a wig and paper cap on his head, fastened a dark lantern, in one of his hands, and a bundle of matches in the other, and carried him about all day, with shouts of laughter and huzzas, begging for their "Guy". When he was released at night he went home, and having slept upon his wrongs, he carried them the next morning to a police office, whither his offenders were presently brought by warrant, before the magistrates, who ordered them to find bail or stand committed.  It is illegal to smug a man for "a Guy".  -Hone, William, The Every -Day Book.,1827.


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Ever since the time of the plot sermons celebrating the uncovering of the plot have been written and prepared for delivery on the 5th of November. A crowd always enjoys a rousing speech around the fire torches in hand. Try introducing the guy and telling the story of the plot. Punctuate the sermon with cheers or huzzas. Shake torches in air-bring those attending to life. In Linthicum we introduce the other effigies and invoke a good deal of satire. Get into an interchange with the crowd- follow up with a few chants. Some celebrations have mock sermons and prayers which are interrupted by the celebrants who try to stop them! The history of sermons on the 5th of November is quite interesting. For the history of gunpowder plot thanksgiving sermons go here just click. For the first sermon read to king James I click right here! Here are some other religious offerings :

vlam Link What about a good olde liturgy for starters? 
From 1606. 
vlam Link A prayer perhaps? 
Psalme of Thanksgiving 1617.
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A procession will get your celebration off to a good start. Each procession should have: People bearing torches or things that are on fire, bands, costumed marching units, floats carrying displays and burnable tableaus. Banners illustrating the plot are also essential and of course dignitaries if they had any dignity would be at your procession- Try it its fun! Some great tips for the organization of processions is provided by Gerry Glenister of the Hastings Bonfire Society click here

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No one Should go hungry. Special foods go with the bonfire and the festivities. Lay in a good supply in advance! Don't forget lots of baking potatoes and other food which can be cooked in foil in the fire. Note that is some places bonfires are banned but not so cooking fires. Especially if the cooking fire is contained in a pit in the ground! But how does this work? Interested in traditional pit cooking?

The tradition of having a "slap up" dinner was very popular. Gentlemen would gather to toast the day and have a meal together while watching the processions from their windows. You will find the details here-just click!

vlam Link Then we eat! 
The best traditional foods.
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Church Pew Beating

Go out and beat church pews while the bells are ringing. 

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Dress up, wear strange costumes, dance around the fire! Put the kids in charge! That will be a riot! Actually it is important to stress safety at all times! Bonfires and celebrations should never be harmful or destructive events. But you can have  a  "riot" in a pleasant sense!  Actually the fifth was often celebrated by misrule. Those in authority permitted the mob to address the problem of law evading by extracting payment, tar and feathering, or breaking windows of those who were known to have escaped judgment.

There must be something you can do round the bonfire. 

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Beat folks with Sinews

"1433 At the same period, the butchers in Clare-market had a bonfire in the open space of the market, next to Bear-yard, and they thrashed each other 'round about by the" wood- fire," with the strongest sinews of slaughtered bulls.  Large parties of butchers from all he markets paraded the streets, ringing peals from marrow-bones-and cleavers, so loud as to overpower the storms of sound that came from the rocking belfries of the churches...." William Hone The Every Day Book.  London 1827.  To return to the menu click here


How do you celebrate Guy Fawkes Day? Let us know!



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