The Ceremonial Trappings

The Bonfire: It is believed that the very night the Gunpower Plot was thwarted in 1605, bonfires were lit in London to celebrate its defeat. As early as 1607, there is a record of bonfire celebrations taking place in Bristol on November 5th and it was traditional for children to black their faces with the ashes in imitation of Guy Fawkes who, it was believed, performed a similar function in order to try and camouflage himself. Bonfires were often used to cook potatoes known as "roasters" on this special night. Bonfires themselves, however, did not begin with Guy Fawkes. They are ancient rituals of celebration which have been present from the earliest times in the British Isles and throughout Europe.

The Fireworks: Fireworks have been a traditional part of the celebrations since 1677. Fireworks (known in modern times as pyrotechnics) probably originated in medieval China when Chinese alchemists, who knew that saltpeter endowed fire with energy, were experimenting with chemicals in a search for the elxir of life. In approximately 850 A.D., saltpeter was combined with charcoal and sulfur. The end result was gunpowder. It appears that gunpowder arrived in Europe in the Thirteenth Century and inspired the invention of the cannon. Around the same time, the art of true pyrotechnics was developed in Italy and by the Fifteenth Century, fireworks were being used in pageants and celebrations throughout Europe. The first record of fireworks being employed in England was during the wedding of Henry VII in 1486 and increased in popularity during the reign of Elizabeth I who created a "Fire Master of England." Early classical fireworks were decidedly lacking in color. Granulated charcoal left a trail of orange sparks...iron filings would glow white...and chemicals such as amber would emit pastel flames, but there were no rich colors until the 1830s when potassium chlorate, copper, strontium and barium were used in their creation. Magnesium was later added to brighten the effect of the fireworks and by 1900, powdered aluminum was used to create much the same effect at less cost.

The Guy: The exact date when "guys" were first introduced into the November 5th festivities is not known, but it would have been while James I was still on the throne. Later, after the reign of Charles II, children began making guys a few days prior to the event and then parading their creations throught the streets while chanting: "Penny for the guy." The money collected was later used to purchase fireworks. The tradition of tossing the guy into the bonfire probably began in the Eighteenth Century and included effigies of the Pope, the Young Pretender and Devils as much as they did Guy Fawkes. The custom of burning the guy had become an integral part of the celebrations by the Nineteenth Century. The model guys are usually grotesque with a clumsy air about them. The head is often villanous-looking and may sport a brightly-colored mask.


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