About the event
Guy Fawkes night, or Bonfire Night, is an annual festival held across the UK every 5th of November. The day commemorates the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 which intended to blow up the King and the House of Lords. The now infamous Guy Fawkes and his other co-conspirators were Catholic revolutionaries fighting back against persecution from King James I. In the past the event was a day to reinforce anti-Catholic sentiment and the power of the Protestant state. Effigies of Guy Fawkes and the Pope were traditionally burnt accompanied by anti-Catholic sermons in Church.
Today, the festival has largely lost its religious and political connotations. Instead, it has become an evening to gather with friends and families around a fire whilst watching firework displays.
How to approach it
There are problematic associations with Guy Fawkes Night despite the fact that it has morphed into a largely inoffensive holiday. The most crucial is its association with anti-Catholicism and Britain’s long history of sectarian religious conflict. As a result this is a good day to develop your student’s empathy, compassion and peace building capacity.
At face value, this night is a good opportunity to introduce a key event in British history. The story of the Gunpowder Plot is exciting and instructive on some core themes such as Catholic/Protestant conflict and the historical role of parliament. However it's also a great opportunity to think about conflict in general, what causes unrest and how cycles of communal violence can be ended. Some useful things to think about here are. What were the conspirators' motivation? How were catholics violently repressed? How could this dispute have been avoided? Here, you can show that in order to end conflict we have to understand its causes, which requires empathy on both sides. You could finish this discussion by asking: what things can we celebrate around a fire that bring us together rather than apart?
Guy Fawkes Night used to be about celebrating the triumph of the Protestant King over Catholic revolutionaries. It was a night to reinforce divisions between different religious groups. Now, the night has mostly become a celebration of fireworks and bonfires. How can we celebrate in a way that brings us together rather than apart?