Everything You Need to Know About Guy Fawkes Night in Scotland

Fireworks Bonfire Night

So you’ve found yourself in Scotland in the “off-season”. It’s not really summer anymore and it’s not quite the winter wonderland yet so what’s on during this kinda soggy autumn time? Well, one big event you can enjoy is actually my absolute favourite day of the year! Here’s everything you need to know about Guy Fawkes Night in Scotland!

What is Guy Fawkes Night?

So, first of all, Guy Fawkes Night actually has a multitude of names so you’ll hear Guy Fawkes Night referred to as Bonfire Night, Fireworks Night or simply by it’s date- the 5th of November. This one is actually a Britain-wide celebration and yes, I have used Britain as a very specific term, so not UK-wide as it is not celebrated in Northern Ireland and nope, not Ireland either.

The history behind Guy Fawkes as a national holiday is actually quite the odd one. So, the exceptionally condensed and simplified version is this. Guy Fawkes was a man who lived at the turn of the 17th century, in a time when his religious beliefs weren’t allowed by law, and so he tried to blow up both parliament and the King in 1605 with his “Gunpowder Plot” planned for the 5th of November. He failed. And now we set off fireworks to commemorate that he didn’t explode the government and the monarch….yeah, I don’t really get it either. Most people just like a night of pretty lights and don’t really know, or don’t particularly think, about the history of it.

Westminster Parliament

What are the traditions around Guy Fawkes Night?

So there are a few traditions that go along with the night and based on the various other names it receives you’ve probably guessed the basics:

Fireworks

The main event. The showstopper. The one that makes it. There needs to be fireworks to celebrate a failed “Gunpowder Plot” for, you know…reasons. There is no specifics on types or colours or specific times to set them off but they need be there for everyone to go “ooh” and “aah” at. And I tend to go “ooh” and “aah” for every single one.

Bonfires

Bonfire

Sadly, this one is slowly disappearing as people started to realise that having, what was usually, a GIANT fire surrounded by people wasn’t really the best idea but bonfires are very much a part of a traditional event – hence “Bonfire Night”. As a child, I remember our local village bonfire, built largely of wooden pallets, being truly enormous and the heat that would come off the thing was just unfathomable but it was a vital part of the night. The 5th of November was always icy cold so you had to go stand by the fire every so often to thaw out a bit or to toast some marshmallows or your face. At that time, kids just wandered around it, there were no fences and our clothes were probably not particularly fire retardant, but if there is a bonfire at an organised event today they will be carefully controlled, fenced off and with full health and safety checks keeping everything right!

A penny for the Guy

So the bonfires also come with a little add on. Another tradition of Guy Fawkes Night here is Britain is to actually burn an effigy of Mr Guy Fawkes at the top of the bonfire. I think this one has also fallen a little by the wayside too (though there are some noted exceptions in England) but in the past children would go around the streets or go door to door and ask people for “a penny for the Guy”. Basically can you spare some change to help us make a scarecrow and buy kindling to set him on fire….

Sparklers

Sparkler on Guy Fawkes Night
Andrew very pleased with his sparkler

So moving swiftly on from that….sparklers, everyone loves sparklers. I particularly love sparklers and they’re great fun. They come in all shapes and sizes but you’ll only be able to buy them up until the Fireworks Night so best to pop into a shop early as they might all have disappeared come the evening of the 5th. It’s also worth noting that often organised events will ask people not to bring them to the night so check before you take them along.

Bonfire Night Food

The 5th of November can often be very cold in Scotland so hot drinks and snacks are essential for added warmth and often just nice to keep hands toasty. Traditional Bonfire Night foods include baked potatoes – cooked in tinfoil at the side of your fire and hot soups. I always have vivid memories of hot pea and ham soup from a van but pretty sure that there are no specific flavour requirements on this one.

Toffee Apples

Toffee apples are another favourite and are exactly as the name suggests – a regular apple dunked in toffee and then rammed on a stick.  These have often merged a little into Halloween treats due to the close proximity of events but trying to tackle these ridiculous snacks is a well established challenge.

Where can I go to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night?

So the key date around the Bonfire Night celebration is the 5th of November and everyone knows the little rhythm “Remember, remember, the 5th of November…” and usually that’s literally all people know but it does go on. In reality, if you are in any town or city fireworks will start going off from the 1st of November and likely till the week following.  In general, chances are you won’t really miss them as you’ll see at least the odd one just wandering around during this time of year but for guaranteed viewing of Guy Fawkes celebrations in Scotland, here are some options for you.

A local authority official fireworks display

So these are by far the most popular and safest option for enjoying Guy Fawkes Night. Traditionally, every city, town and even village would put on a fireworks display and have a large bonfire but as health and safety and public liability insurance has become a key part of life – smaller, more local events have often lost out simply due to cost. However, larger displays run by councils are booming (pun very much intended). Local authorities will put on a whole day of events for families, often a fun fair followed by a concert and ending with a full on choreographed fireworks display. And the best bit? Council run fireworks event are absolutely FREE!

Fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night
Some impressive display fireworks at our local event in Glasgow

A key thing to remember is that as these events are often very family orientated, if the 5th falls close to the weekend these will often be scheduled on the Saturday to allow kiddies to stay up late without having to go to school the next morning so double check dates of local fireworks events.

Private event Guy Fawkes evenings

Like all big celebrations, there are also private groups which hold events which are generally ticketed and usually cost or are donation entry. Often local schools, scout groups or businesses will hold their own fireworks displays on private grounds likely raising money for a charity or their own organisation. These will usually be smaller affairs than the large-scale council displays but can be just as exciting. You might get a lot closer to the action and often these groups will still have a bonfire as smaller numbers usually means it’s easier to do crowd control around an open flame.

Home fireworks displays

Many people still chose to have their own displays in their back gardens and so befriending a local can definitely have some perks. The fireworks might not be as large as those at the main events but is can just as spark-tacular (sorry).

In the UK, fireworks are only sold in shops in the week running up to Fireworks Night and before New Year. You’ll see fireworks for sale at the front of supermarkets and there are even pop-up shops which appear with the sole purpose of selling fireworks and sparklers.

Fireworks Garden Party Sparklers
Playing with sparklers in our own back garden

Like any fireworks event, safety needs to be top priority so if you’re opting for a firework party in the garden then you need to make sure whoever is in charge is a responsible, sober person! These can be great intimate events and for some reason the fact that they are YOUR personal fireworks does add a little to the night but these things are explosives and dangerous so please be careful with them! Read the instructions, keep a safe distance and don’t kid around with them.

Have you enjoyed a Guy Fawkes Night in Scotland? 


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Everything You Need to Know About Guy Fawkes Night in Scotland: Where to go, what to see and what to snack on to make enjoy Guy Fawkes Night in Scotland.

8 Comments

  1. I love attending country specific traditions and this was something I didn’t know much about. I would love to see he fireworks, and I am little saddened as in the bonfires are fading away!! They must be a great event to bond and enjoy!!

  2. I have fireworks going off outside my window as I type! I love 5th November too – happy memories of fireworks displays, and toffee apples, and buying grilled sausage sandwiches. Plus my cat isn’t worried by fireworks in the slightest, so it’s all good!

    • Haha so cool. I just love fireworks so much so this is my favourite time of the year. So glad the cat doesn’t mind it’s such a shame when they upset pets and wildlife.

  3. I’ve always wanted to buy fireworks to set off, but never have! I always forget that anyone anywhere else in the world would probably be pretty perplexed by this tradition because it’s so ingrained into us haha. I celebrated last night in Forres, which was waaaay better than the ones they do at home in Orkney! However I used to live near Lewes (Sussex) which puts on the biggest event in the UK! Hours of processions, topical effigies (haven’t seen who they’ve done this year yet but I don’t know how they get away with it, haha!!) and at least five firework displays, if you stand in the right place you can watch all five at once! Amazing. I love bonfire night!

    • When we were kids my dad used to buy a few but I’ve never had my own as an adult, don’t think I trust myself or my husband not to be too clumsy and knock them over! I’ve seen the big effigy events and ones where they run with burning barrels down the streets too – would be cool to see them first-hand! Five displays at once sounds like my idea of heaven though!

  4. I loved Guy Fawkes when I was a kid, it was a chance to stay up late eat sausages and potatoes cooked in the fire happy memories. It wasn’t until later in life I learned the reasons for the Gunpowder Plot and the horrendous sufferings of the catholics in Britain at the time. Check out a new TV show called The Gunpowder Plot with Kit Harrington (he of GOT fame) really interesting

    • I’m the same. I’ve always loved fireworks and so Guy Fawkes Night is amazing but if you actually think about the history it’s terrible – why do we “celebrate” this? I guess most people don’t know the story and just enjoy the pretty lights in the sky!

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