Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason. Why gunpowder treason.
Should ever be forgot!

Tomorrow is Guy Fawkes’ Night, where we celebrate a failed Catholic plot to assassinate King James I by blowing up the House of Lords. We’re a funny old country, aren’t we? Over time the significance of this date has shifted away from the predominately Protestant commemoration of the past towards an excuse to light fireworks. Nevertheless, some traditions remain popular to this day.

First things first, the bonfire. The history of the word bonfire is perhaps more suited to Halloween than Guy Fawkes’ night as it is derived from the Middle English banefyre or bonefire, a fire that is used to burn bones. Bonfires were immediately linked to the gunpowder plot when they were lit to celebrate the King’s survival but in time they were used to burn effigies, often the Pope. Around the end of the 18th century, it became common for an effigy of Guy Fawkes to be burned on the bonfire. Children would create the figure out of old clothes, leaves, newspaper or straw and parade them around town calling for a “penny for the guy”. The popularity of this tradition meant that the word guy came to mean an ugly, oddly-dressed person, which evolved into its modern day usage to refer to any male person.

Although we may think of them as a more modern addition to the celebration, fireworks have been documented as far back as the 7th century. Invented in China during the Tang Dynasty, fireworks have long been used to accompany festivities. There are a fascinating array of different effects, with names including, peony, time rain, horsetail, cake and kamuro (the Japanese word for boy’s haircut!). Maybe one of the most recognisable fireworks is the Catherine wheel, this got its name from Saint Catherine of Alexandria who, according to legend, was condemned to death by a spiked breaking wheel (you probably don’t want to know how this worked…). The wheel is said to have broken into pieces at her touch but this miracle wasn’t enough to save her and she was beheaded (and there I was thinking my grizzly Halloween posts were over!)

So there are the celebrations, but what are we going to have to eat? How about a parkin? This spiced, oaty ginger cake originated in the North of England and, although the history of the word parkin is unclear, it can be dated back to the 1700s. Recipes differ from region to region and the cake can also go by the names perkin, thor cake or tharf cake.

We hope you all have a lovely (and safe!) Guy Fawkes’ night!