Bonfire Night

Join Joe to find out why the British celebrate people trying to blow up Parliament! 


Before you watch

Think about the following questions:

  • When do people usually set off fireworks?
  • Have you heard of Guy Fawkes?

Now listen to Joe as he explores the special British tradition of Bonfire Night.


All around the world, festive days like New Year’s Eve are celebrated with fireworks. But here in Britain, there is one night that is very special.

It’s November the fifth, Bonfire Night, and I’m wrapped up warm for some autumn fun. Tonight’s the night for lighting bonfires and setting off fireworks. Here in Winchester, preparations for the celebrations are under way and tonight it’s all going to get very noisy!

Bonfire Night parties take place in towns and cities across Britain. The Winchester event is free and attracts over twenty thousand people. Steve Lewis of the charity ‘Round Table’ is the volunteer in charge.

Joe: Steve, what’s the plan for tonight’s celebrations?

Steve: OK, tonight actually kicks off at 6pm in the city centre by our Guild Hall. There’s a torch-lit procession where thousands and thousands of people follow a band through the city and we all process down to the fields here. And then we’ll follow that by the lighting of the bonfire about 7.15. At 7.45 the fireworks will go off and the crowds will cheer.

Joe: It sounds like a hectic night. How many people does it take to organise this?

Steve: On the night itself, we have a hundred and eighty volunteers and many, many other people to help us out. So it’s hundreds of people involved in an event of this size.

Joe: And be honest, is this about history or is it just an excuse to have fun?

Steve: Bonfire Night is about history. It all comes from history of England and the Houses of Parliament. But it is great fun, too – great fun for us to organise and put on and great fun for everybody who turns up.

So how did this all start? Four hundred years ago, a man called Guy Fawkes planned to kill King James by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. It was called the Gunpowder Plot. It failed, and to mark the event rag doll ‘Guys’ are burnt on the bonfire and fireworks are set off. Fireworks are made using gunpowder.

Leon’s probably got the best job in the world. He lets off fireworks for a living.

Joe: Leon, talk me through the sort of display you’re going to put on.

Leon: There’s about four thousand fireworks which all create different effects. Some will go up and go bang, some will spin up there, some will crackle, there’s whistles…

Joe: What do you think it is about fireworks that the British public just love?

Leon: It’s a great tradition that we have here. If it wasn’t for Guy Fawkes we wouldn’t be stood here today. You know, it’s a great... I love tradition.

It’s six o’clock and time for me to join the procession.

OK, it’s almost time for the fireworks now.

Well, I thought that was fantastic – but what did the public think?

Woman: Well, it was really nice to come up and meet up with my friends – and watching the fireworks, they were beautiful.

Girl 1: I thought they were really good. They were even better than last year.

Girl 2: They were really good and they were really colourful and they looked really cool.

That’s Bonfire Night over for another year – but there’s always time for a final bit of sparkle.


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Submitted by Kostya B on Mon, 12/11/2018 - 18:37

In particular in my country basically fireworks set off on the New Year or someone's birthday. Guy Fawkes the most famous participant of the Gunpowder Plot.

Submitted by quoc hung on Tue, 30/10/2018 - 04:31

3:02 i thought the structure of the sentence was "If it wasn't for Guy Fawkes, we wouldn't stand here". Why did he say it differently?

Hello quoc hung,

The form 'be stood' has the same meaning as 'be standing'. It is less common and slightly old-fashioned, but it is used in certain phrases, such as '(be) stood here today'.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Yshc on Tue, 24/04/2018 - 15:36

Hello, team! Can you clarify the absence of an article before the wort "time" in the sentence "OK, it’s almost time for the fireworks now." . I'd say "It's the time for something.." or "it's almost the time for smth..". Am I wrong? Maybe both options are possible? I there any difference between "It's time for.." and " It's the time for.."? Thank you!

Hi Yshc,

When 'it's time for' means 'now is the time for', then 'the' is not used. So the expression 'It's almost time for' is correct, since it's saying that now it's almost time for supper, fireworks, whatever.

I'm having a hard time thinking of when I'd say 'it is/was/will be the time for something', but I could be missing something.

Hope this helps.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Vitru on Tue, 11/04/2017 - 15:21

Nice festive day, even in my country we celebrate a lot with fireworks. Every celebration is good for us to set off a bit of sparkle!

Submitted by Nizam Balinese on Fri, 07/04/2017 - 14:05

Hello, Team. I'm sorry, I think there are some mistakes in the exercises of the Task I for the second and the fourth because in fact, the right answer is not as the heading suggest. 1. For the second of the Task I. From the article above, it says : "Steven Lewis of the charity 'Round Table' is the volunteer in charge". So the right answer for the second of the The Task I is would be the third point (is in charge of the Fireworks on Bonfire Night). It's not the second point as the heading suggest. 2. For the fourth of the Task I. From the article above, it says : " Joe : Leon, talks me through the sort of display you are going to put on". So the right answer for the fourth of the Task I is would be the second point (organises the Bonfire Night celebration in Winchester). It's not the third point as the heading suggest. ===================== Would you like to corrrect it again, please? Thank you very much.
No, Leon is in charge of the Fireworks. Steven Lewis is in charge of (i.e. organises) the whole Bonfire Night celebration. The fireworks are just part of the bigger celebration. The task tests comprehension, not the specific phrases used.

Submitted by STEPHANE ROTH on Mon, 27/02/2017 - 07:57

In France, Fireworks are set off on July, 14, to celebrate The French Revolution in 1789, and the end of Royalty. Never heard of Guy Fawkes.

Submitted by Tom First on Sun, 05/02/2017 - 18:03

Hi English Team, I'd like to know precisely the idea of Guy's burning. So does 'rag doll' mean 'effigy', when we hate somebody for doing something wrong?

Hi Tom First,

A rag doll is a term used usually for soft children's toys and its use in this context is quite unusual.

'Effigy' is a more formal or literary word used for any figure created to look like a person. Statues are effigies, for example. 'Effigy' can also be used for figures burned in protest, as you say.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Duhi on Wed, 04/01/2017 - 16:36

Hi everyone. My hometown is Vietnam, our country always set off the fireworks on special holiday as Lunar New Year or others. But this year, our country had been flooded with the goverment made a decision that we will not enjoy new year moment by burning fireworks, then save the money of buying fireworks to help the poor people...good activity, alright?