It seems like Halloween has taken over, but Bonfire Night can still be a night of cosy, sparkly fun.
So Halloween is over, the pumpkins are in the compost and there’s a clear run until Christmas. Oh hang on a sec! Actually, there isn’t a clear run till Christmas. Tomorrow marks a little known English festival called Bonfire Night. Remember, remember the fifth of November? If you’re under 15 you might not even have heard of it.
I’m only half joking. Halloween takes more of our attention at this time of year, and Bonfire Night doesn’t get much of a look in. October 31st is getting expensive – what with the sweets, treats and spooky costumes – that there isn’t always money left over for fireworks and Bonfire Night fun.
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That’s a complete turnaround from my own childhood, when Halloween was barely celebrated and Bonfire Night was a big event. Thanks to Horrible Histories my children know the story of Guy Fawkes, but to be honest they find it all rather dull compared to the ghostly chills and thrills of All Hallows Eve.
It may be that Bonfire Night is also the victim of a modern safety culture. I’m not blaming the authorities. A lot of parents don’t want their children anywhere near a giant crackling, hissing fire, and we all remember stories of children losing eyes or suffering serious burns from mis-handled fireworks. The bonfire in my own local park was cancelled a few years ago because teenagers liked to jump around in its glowing embers the next morning, daring each other to go deeper into the hot mound of ash.
A horrible history
So is Bonfire Night still worth celebrating?
It does mark an important moment in history, when a Catholic plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament was foiled and the life of King James I saved. Bonfires were originally lit on 5 November to celebrate the survival of the English monarch, with effigies of the hapless Guy Fawkes – burnt atop the pyre.
In modern times Bonfire Night is perhaps more of a festival of light, with fires and fireworks illuminating the night sky just a few days after the clocks go back and the nights become longer than the days.
There’s something very pagan and joyful about facing down the encroaching darkness with exploding rockets, swirling sparklers and leaping flames
That’s what’s great about Bonfire Night, and something we should preserve.
Here are five ways to make Bonfire Night memorable again, without spending money that, thanks to Halloween, you probably haven’t got.
1.Have a mini party
Bonfire Night falls on a cold, dark, possibly damp Monday this year, so it’s not a time for a big do. But you can make it special for the kids by:
- Having a buffet supper
- Fireworks in the garden
- And a few friends round for a couple of hours
2. Cook up a storm
With that in mind, get small children to help bake something a bit different. In Northern England, it’s traditional to have Parkin – a sweet, sticky ginger sponge cake – on Bonfire Night, and it’s easy to make. Why not start with another treat, sticky chicken drumsticks.
3. Get sparkly
Fireworks can be expensive, and you may not have the space to let them off safely. But you don’t need much space to enjoy sparklers. Children love drawing pictures in the pitch black night sky with their fiery sticks. You can buy packets of sparklers for as little as 50p in your local supermarket.
4. Get organised
Another option is to go to an organised event. Some will have happened over the weekend, but there are still plenty of bonfires being lit around the country on Monday night. Just a note: small children can get a bit scared by the noise and crowds.
5. Talk turkey
I know this one sounds a bit mad but after you’ve enjoyed sparklers, games and sticky Parkin, why not talk Christmas? I have a tradition that the kids can write Christmas lists at the end of Bonfire Night. We’ll then discuss what we want to do over the festive period, where we want to spend it and any shows or events we want to attend.
It’s an exciting end to the night and gives the children something to look forward to, now that it really is a clear run to Christmas.