Bonfire Night

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This article is about traditions of bonfire celebrations. For other meanings of the term, see Bonfire Night (disambiguation).
A bonfire in Louisiana, USA

Bonfire Night is an annual celebration characterised by bonfires and fireworks. Different traditions celebrate Bonfire Night on different days. Some of the most popular instances include Guy Fawkes Night in the United Kingdom, which is also celebrated in some Commonwealth countries; Northern Ireland's Eleventh Night, a precursor to The Twelfth; 23 June in the Republic of Ireland, and 5 of November in Newfoundland and Labrador. Often known as St John's Eve, a similar bonfire tradition survives in parts of Scandinavia and is known as Walpurgis Night. Several other cultures also include night-time celebrations involving bonfires and/or fireworks.


In England, Bonfire Night is associated with the tradition of celebrating the failure of Guy Fawkes' actions on 5 November.[1] The English festival is, therefore, on 5 November, although some commercially-driven events are held at a weekend near to the correct date, to maximise attendance. Bonfire night's sectarian significance has generally been lost: it is now usually just a night of revelry with a bonfire and fireworks, although occasionally an effigy of Guy Fawkes is burned on the fire. Celebrations are held throughout England and Wales; in some non-Catholic communities in Northern Ireland; and in some other parts of the Commonwealth. In the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, 5 November is commemorated with bonfires and firework displays,[2] and it is officially celebrated in South Africa.[3]

In Northern Ireland, the term "Bonfire Night" can refer to the Eleventh Night celebrations of 11 July. Like 5 November, this Bonfire Night also has its roots in the sectarian struggle between Protestants and Catholics. It celebrates the Battle of the Boyne of 1690, in which the Protestant William of Orange defeated the Catholic James II.[4] The 23 June Bonfire Night in Ireland has its origins in a religious celebration and originally featured prayers for bountiful crops.[5]

Social impact[edit]

Bonfire Night celebrations can pose a risk to public safety due to the possibility of fires, injuries, or fights. For example, in London, calls to firefighting services are nearly tripled on Bonfire Night.[6] In Belfast, the July 2003 Bonfire Night resulted in £10,000 worth of damage to a park.[4] The use of fireworks may lead to dangerous pyrotechnic incidents. In parts of the Caribbean, laws banning fireworks and explosives have muted the occasion,[7] and safety concerns in New Zealand have resulted in restrictions on fireworks use, although public firework displays remain popular there.[8]

The tradition of Bonfire Night has been criticised for its environmental impact. A 1994 study conducted in Oxford, England, found a four-fold increase in dioxin and furan concentration in the air after a Bonfire Night celebration.[9] In 2005 a Bonfire Night in Newfoundland prompted the provincial Minister of Environment and Conservation to remind the general public of their responsibilities for safety and the environment.[10]


There are many food items that are associated with Bonfire Night. Toffee apples, treacle toffee, black peas, and parkin are traditionally eaten around Bonfire Night in parts of England.[11][12]


  1. ^ Walters, Guy (1 November 2011). "Is it anti-Catholic to celebrate Guy Fawkes' Night?". The Daily Telegraph. Guy Fawkes' Nights – which are, after all, more commonly just called Bonfire or Firework Nights )
  2. ^ "Public asked to keep environment in mind on Guy Fawkes night". Government of Newfoundland. 4 November 2005. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  3. ^ "Guy Fawkes Day in Cape Town". Cape Town Magazine. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "Bonfire repair bill revealed". BBC News. 15 July 2003. Retrieved 27 May 2011. 
  5. ^ Haggerty, Bridget. "St. John's Eve in old Ireland". Irish Culture and Customs. 
  6. ^ Evans, Martin (26 October 2010). "Bonfire Night strikes: Prime Minister condemns firefighters' threat". The Telegraph (London). Retrieved 18 May 2011. 
  7. ^ Brooks, Sheena (29 October 2010). "Exploding Fireworks Being Mistaken for Gunfire". The St Kitts-Nevis Observer. Retrieved 9 November 2010. 
  8. ^ Gaffaney, C (31 October 2014). "Auckland's new Guy Fawkes restrictions kick in". New Zealand Herald. 
  9. ^ Dyke, P; Coleman, P; James, Ray (4 March 1997). "Dioxins in ambient air, bonfire night 1994". Chemosphere 34 (5–7): 1191–1201. doi:10.1016/S0045-6535(97)00418-9. 
  10. ^ Public asked to keep environment in mind on Guy Fawkes night 
  11. ^ Wilson, C. "A Northern Bonfire Night treat". BBC. Retrieved 11 March 2015. 
  12. ^ Heathcote, P (4 November 2011). "Get parched: an old favourite makes for a tasty Bonfire Night dish". Daily Post (Liverpool) – via HighBeam. (subscription required (help)).