Bonfire Night 2020 will be a festival like no other. Most, if not all, public firework displays are cancelled, and we’re all being encouraged to stay at home. That shouldn’t stop the fun. Here are eight ways to enjoy the evening at home, and a ninth that’ll have you out-and-about in a safe way.
Get Your Own Fireworks
If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, then launching your own fireworks can be an exciting part of bonfire night. Fireworks can be bought from most supermarkets by anyone over the age of 18. You only need a handful to make a show of it. Unlike at public displays, where it’s all about the bang, much of the magic lies in building a sense of anticipation. The theatre of placing the rocket at its launch site, lighting the fuse, and getting everyone to stand back is almost as much fun as the explosion itself.
Remember that you’re essentially letting off explosives near children, so be sure to follow the safety instructions (and the Firework Code) to the letter. You should also think about your neighbours when planning a mini-display. Let them know ahead of time, especially if they have pets, infants or might otherwise be perturbed by loud bangs.
Don’t be tempted to light a bonfire. Burning open fires can be dangerous and heavily polluting, and the smoke may blow into neighbouring homes. Likewise, Chinese lanterns, while beautiful, are also an environmental no-no -- it’s an extravagant form of littering.
Sparklers: The No-Fuss Firework
Sparklers hold many advantages over more explosive forms of firework. They’re cheaper, need less space and won’t annoy the neighbours. You’ll also get some mighty impressive photos of your kids discovering they can “write” in the air with the glowing end. If the kids are a bit young to be wielding hot metal, you can always stick the sparklers into a potato, and watch from a distance. As with all fireworks, take a safety-first attitude. Never light sparklers on balconies or roof terraces, and leave them on the floor until they’ve thoroughly cooled.
How About Indoor Fireworks?
Indoor fireworks really are a thing. Don’t expect to see them rocket across the room and burst into huge explosions; this is a much gentler affair. Instead, you’ll get a dose of pyrotechnics straight out of a children’s science show, with lively, sputtering candles, flashes of phosphorous and the giggle-inducing “cobra”, which emits a snake-like black residue much larger than the egg it comes from. As ever, be sure to follow safety instructions. You may want to open a window, and light the fireworks well away from the smoke alarms. (Older readers beware of indoor fireworks: you’ll have that Elvis Costello song in your head for weeks.)
Bonfire Night Food
If you’ve got a garden, then bonfire night is the last excuse to fire up the barbecue before winter. Cook what you like on it, but toasted marshmallows are absolutely essential to the occasion. Even better, get some crackers and chocolate and make some American-style S’mores. If you don’t have access to a barbecue, you can still (carefully) toast marshmallows on a gas hob or (less excitingly) by baking in the oven. I wouldn’t try toasting by candle flame unless you want a sooty treat. If you have any left over, have fun building this marshmallow launcher, to prove that fireworks aren’t the only things to fly on bonfire night.
Other favourites of the season include hot dogs, burgers, jacket potatoes, toffee apples, cinnamon swirls and a home-baked apple pie. And don’t forget the warming cup of hot chocolate.
Bonfire Night Crafting
Much like Halloween, the fire and light of Bonfire Night can provide plenty of inspiration for craft projects. Naturally, we’ve put together a guide that will keep you occupied for hours.
Get Hold Of Glowsticks
The safest form of lightshow is to use glow-sticks. A slow chemical reaction causes these wonders to glow steadily without giving off heat for hours, much like a firefly. They come in all colours and can be worn about the body or simply waved like a sparkler. On the downside, they’re single-use only and can’t be recycled, so use them sparingly.
Have An Educational Firework Night
The origins of firework night are often forgotten among the flashes and bangs. But the story of Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators is a fascinating one, worth exploring with older children. Plenty of resources about the gunpowder plot can be found online, including videos explaining the events for kids. One way to make it fun is to pick apart the myths we all learn about the gunpowder plot. For example, Guy Fawkes was not the ringleader -- he just happened to be among those caught red-handed, and had the most memorable name. Nor did the conspirators ‘sneak’ into the Houses of Parliament. They had been legitimately renting storage space there for weeks. And Guy Fawkes was never technically executed… but I’ll let you track down the reasons for that one.
Make A Guy
Now you’ve learned about Guy Fawkes, it’s time to make him. Guy-making was a common tradition when I was a nipper. We’d put together a scarecrow-like body from old clothes stuffed with newspaper or other old clothes. Then, we’d sit out on the street with the effigy and ask passers-by for a few coins: “Penny for the Guy?”. The Guy would later be sacrificed on the village bonfire. You might not want your kids doing those later activities, but the scarecrow making is a fun project in itself. For the head, you can use a Halloween pumpkin (if it hasn’t yet rotted), or fashion a Guy Fawkes mask, a la V for Vendetta.
Climb A Hill
Official displays might not be going ahead, but there’s still a way to enjoy a sky full of explosions -- and without the crowds. Simply walk to the top of any large hill, in or near a town (some London ideas here), and you should see fireworks from many separate households. You may even be able to meet with friends to do this, so long as you maintain social distance and don’t break the Rule of 6.
Whatever you do for firework night, have a banging time!
See also: 50 excruciating firework puns.
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.