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Bonfire Night

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A Christmas Eve celebration bonfire in Louisiana, United States

Bonfire Night is a name given to various annual events characterised by bonfires and fireworks.[1] The event celebrates different traditions on different dates, depending on the country. Some of the most popular instances include Guy Fawkes Night (5 November) in Great Britain, which is also celebrated in some Commonwealth countries; Northern Ireland's Eleventh Night (11 July), and 5 November in Newfoundland and Labrador. In various parts of Ireland, Bonfire Nights are held on Saint John's Eve (23 June),[2] Bealtaine eve (30 April)[3] and Halloween (31 October). Due to the Thanksgiving Act, up until 1859 celebration of Guy Fawkes Night in the UK was legally mandated, which evolved into the Bonfire Night of today.

In Scandinavia and Germany it is known as Walpurgis Night or ″Tanz in den Mai″ (30 April) and in Denmark and Norway also sankthansaften (23 June). In Finland bonfires are lit on the eve of Juhannus (Friday between 19 and 25 June). Saint John's Eve is also a very important celebration in Spain and Northern Portugal. Several other cultures also include night-time celebrations involving bonfires and/or fireworks.

Bonfire Night is also celebrated in Northern Ireland on 15 August in Catholic communities to mark the Feast of the Assumption.[4]


In Great Britain, Bonfire Night is associated with the tradition of celebrating the failure of Guy Fawkes' actions on 5 November 1605.[5] The British 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 an effigy of Guy Fawkes is burned on the fire. Celebrations are held throughout Great Britain; in some non-Catholic communities in Northern Ireland;[6] and in some other parts of the Commonwealth. In many areas of the UK, celebrations also feature funfairs, family entertainment, and special food and drinks.[7] In the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, 5 November is commemorated with bonfires and firework displays,[8] and it is officially celebrated in South Africa.[9]

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. Unlike 5 November the sectarian significance of 11 July is still strong. It celebrates the Battle of the Boyne of 1690, in which the Protestant William of Orange defeated the Catholic James II.[10]

In the city of Cork[2] and many rural parts of the Republic of Ireland "Bonfire Night" refers to 23 June, Saint John's Eve night. It has its origins in a religious celebration and originally featured prayers for bountiful crops. The night is linked to the summer solstice or Midsummer's Eve. Originally fires were lit to honour the goddess Áine as part of a Celtic celebration; the Catholic Church took over the pagan festival and linked it to the birth of St John.[11][12] In the city of Limerick, "Bonfire Night" is held on May Eve, 30 April, on the eve of the Celtic festival of Bealtaine.[3]

Social impact[edit]

Bonfire 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.[13] In Belfast, the July 2003 Eleventh Night resulted in £10,000 worth of damage to a park.[10] The use of fireworks may lead to dangerous pyrotechnic incidents. In parts of the Caribbean, laws banning fireworks and explosives have muted the occasion,[14] and safety concerns in New Zealand have resulted in restrictions on fireworks use, although public firework displays remain popular there.[15]

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.[16] 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.[17]


There are many food items that are associated with Bonfire Night. Toffee apples, treacle toffee, black peas and parkin, and even the jacket potato, are traditionally eaten around Bonfire Night in parts of England.[18][19][20] Also, some families eat soups to warm up on a cold night and toast marshmallows over the fire.[21]


  1. ^ Rawlinson, Kevin (5 November 2010), "Guy Fawkes vs Diwali: Battle of Bonfire Night", independent.co.uk, retrieved 22 March 2011
  2. ^ a b "15,000 to attend family friendly bonfires tonight". Irishexaminer.com. 23 June 2017. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  3. ^ a b Raleigh, David. "Two firefighters injured by mobs while extinguishing May Eve bonfires". The Irish Times. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  4. ^ Santino, J. (2016). Signs of War and Peace: Social Conflict and the Uses of Symbols in Public in Northern Ireland. Springer. ISBN 978-1-4039-8233-9.
  5. ^ Walters, Guy (1 November 2011). "Is it anti-Catholic to celebrate Guy Fawkes' Night?". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 4 November 2010. Guy Fawkes' Nights – which are, after all, more commonly just called Bonfire or Firework Nights)
  6. ^ "How is Guy Fawkes Night Celebrated in Ireland?". TripSavvy.com. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  7. ^ "Bonfire Night: London fireworks displays". Visitlondon.com. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  8. ^ "Public asked to keep environment in mind on Guy Fawkes night". Government of Newfoundland. 4 November 2005. Retrieved 23 March 2011.
  9. ^ "Guy Fawkes Day in Cape Town". Cape Town Magazine. Retrieved 23 March 2011.
  10. ^ a b "Bonfire repair bill revealed". BBC News. 15 July 2003. Retrieved 27 May 2011.
  11. ^ Ryan, Órla (23 June 2015). "Why will lots of bonfires be lit across the country tonight?". TheJournal.ie. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  12. ^ Haggerty, Bridget. "St. John's Eve in old Ireland". Irish Culture and Customs.
  13. ^ Evans, Martin (26 October 2010). "Bonfire Night strikes: Prime Minister condemns firefighters' threat". The Telegraph. Retrieved 18 May 2011.
  14. ^ Brooks, Sheena (29 October 2010). "Exploding Fireworks Being Mistaken for Gunfire". The St Kitts-Nevis Observer. Archived from the original on 23 July 2011. Retrieved 9 November 2010.
  15. ^ Gaffaney, C. (31 October 2014). "Auckland's new Guy Fawkes restrictions kick in". New Zealand Herald.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ "Public asked to keep environment in mind on Guy Fawkes night". Releases.gov.nl.ca. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  18. ^ Wilson, C. "A Northern Bonfire Night treat". BBC. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  19. ^ Heathcote, P (4 November 2011). "Get parched: an old favourite makes for a tasty Bonfire Night dish". Daily Post. Liverpool.[dead link]
  20. ^ "Traditional Bonfire Night Food". Bonfire Night and Guy Fawkes Traditions. Archived from the original on 16 April 2016. Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  21. ^ "Bonfire Night 2019 in London - Dates & Map". Rove.me. Retrieved 21 December 2019.