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Every year in Britain, on November 5th, as darkness falls, bonfires are lit up and down the country. This is a festival to commemorate the failure of Gunpowder Plot, when Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill King James I in 1605. The festival is also called Guy Fawkes Night or Firework Night because a large number of fireworks are also set off in huge displays.

For a week or so before Bonfire Night, children can be seen on the streets begging for money. They usually have some sort of dummy figure with them, perhaps created from stuffed sacks and wearing a hideous mask, called their "guy" (named after Guy Fawkes, of course). They will approach strangers and beg for money, saying "Penny for the Guy?" Any money that they collect is spent on sweets, or whatever they want.

During this same time, large bonfires are built on public spaces. They may be made from old furniture, brushwood, other scrap pieces of wood. Fireworks are bought in large quantities - rockets, catherine wheels and hand-held sparklers. On the 5th November, people gather and one of the dummy guys is ceremoniously put on the very top of the bonfire. The fire is lit and the guy is burned. This is ironic, as Guy Fawkes and his fellow traitors were not burned - they were hanged, drawn and quartered!

While the bonfire is lit, the fireworks are set off, and can usually be seen for a long distance (so don't be surprised if you see the sky light up accompanied by many loud bangs). People eat hotdogs or potatoes which have been baked on the fire, and wave sparklers (a type of firework that you hold in your hand and which emit many sparks) around.

Points of Safety

If you are attending a bonfire night, or actually organising one, please remember the following safety points:

  • Fireworks are dangerous! Never put them in your pocket (a stray spark may set them off) or return to them once they have been lit (even if they seem to go out). Even sparklers (which are designed to be held) burn at 500oC and should be placed head down in a bucket of cold water once they have gone out.

  • Keep all pets indoors. They are generally terrified of the sudden flashes and loud bangs. Indeed, if you are indoors with your pets, you should provide them with extra tender loving care to minimize their fear.

  • Never pour petrol on a bonfire it encourage it to light or burn higher. It can easily get out of control!

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