What is Guy Fawkes?

Sitting on our back balcony wrapped up under a down quilt, the kids and I watched the fireworks exploding over South Auckland, and I got the standard questions. As I do, I figured I would do some research to get a more complete answer, and here we go!


Dad. What is Guy Fawkes?

Well, more correctly – who was Guy Fawkes? Mainly famous for his failed attempt to blow up parliament in London, Guy Fawkes was a former soldier turned activist born in Yorkshire, England, in the 1570s. He’s remembered each year on November 5, the night his plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament and the ruling King James I was foiled back in 1605. 

Why do this? You may ask. Fawkes and his group of co-conspirators were Catholics, and they were frustrated with King James I’s Protestant rule, which was not in favour of Catholics—their basic plan was to replace the Protestant King with a Catholic ruler.


How was the plot foiled? 

Because of an anonymous tip-off, authorities found Fawkes in a cellar under the Parliament building with 36 barrels of gunpowder. He was arrested and later executed. 

Today, Fawkes’s failed plot serves as an annual reminder (in theory) about the importance of unity and peace in the face of divisive religious and political beliefs. However, if we are honest with ourselves, it’s long been replaced by a focus on the fireworks themselves, with most people being unaware (or uncaring) about the origin.

But speaking of fireworks, do you ever wonder how they work? Let’s take a look.

How do fireworks work? How do they get the different colours?

Well, I’m glad you asked! So, the first thing we need to know is that fireworks are not just about bright lights and deafening sounds. There’s a lot of science behind them. Essentially, when you light a firework, you’re setting off a chain reaction of chemical events. Now, let’s dive a bit deeper, and don’t worry! We’ll keep this fun and simple so you can sound like a mini scientist! 

The Chemical Reaction Behind The Magic 

You see, fireworks are made of different components; the primary ones are a fuel, an oxidiser, and a chemical mix that produces bright colours when burnt. Now, for a firework to explode and light up the sky, it must first be packed in a tight container. When you light it up, the fuel reacts with the oxidiser, releasing gases rapidly. This rapid release of gases is why fireworks explode and create that ‘boom’ sound you love so much. 

Birth of the Dazzling Colours 

But what about the intriguing colours? Well, those mesmerising reds, yellows, greens, and blues? Yes, they all come from different chemical compounds. When these chemicals get heated, they produce specific colours. It’s like each chemical is dressed up in its favourite colour outfit! 

  • Strontium and lithium compounds create a deep red.
  • Calcium salts help produce a luscious orange.
  • Sodium compounds give off a bright yellow (just like table salt).
  • Barium compounds light up in a beautiful green.
  • Copper compounds create that captivating blue you adore so much.

Each chemical compound starts a tiny, colourful fire in the sky. The most exciting thing is mixing these chemical compounds to create a broader range of colours. But by combining compounds, you can make the vast array of colours, shapes and explosions you see in the sky.

Firework Safety: Tips for a Spectacular and Safe Celebration

For all the sparkle and splendour they bring, fireworks can pose certain risks if not handled correctly. So, how do we go about ensuring our celebrations remain both fun-filled and safe? 

The ABC of Firework Safety 

Secondly, there are general safety measures we can all follow to create a safe atmosphere. Let’s call these the ABC’s of Firework Safety: 

  • Adult supervision: Never let children handle fireworks unsupervised. Even sparklers, which might seem harmless, can reach temperatures high enough to cause severe burns.
  • Be sober: Avoid consuming alcohol or drugs when dealing with fireworks, as they can impair your judgment and reaction time.
  • Clear area: Fireworks should always be lit in a wide-open space, away from buildings, vehicles, and flammable substances.

What to Do In Case of an Accident 

Despite all precautions, accidents can still occur. Knowing what to do in such a situation can help limit harm and speed up recovery. If someone gets hurt during your fireworks display, envelop the burnt area with cool, but not cold, water. It would be best to convey the individual to the nearest medical facility quickly. It’s always helpful to have an emergency kit and include a way of summoning ambulance services. Keep a hose, or at a minimum, a bucket of water handy!

Remember, it isn’t an infringement on your fun to be attentive to safety. Consider it as laying the groundwork for a truly joyous occasion that’s completely worry-free!

Look after your pets!

Now, we’ve just talked about us humans enjoying the Guy Fawkes fun, but what about the other significant part of our household? Yes, I’m talking about our furry friends. They, too, are affected, but unlike us, they’re less keen on all the noise and bright flashes. 

Spare a Thought for Your Pets 

You see, our pets have far more sensitive hearing than we do – you can think of it a bit like a superpower. Now, imagine how a tenfold increase in noise might feel to you. Not quite as enjoyable, right? That’s what fireworks can sound like to them. So, we must take extra care to ensure our pets feel safe and secure during the Guy Fawkes festivities. 

So, how can we help them? 

  • Keep Them Inside: Even if your dog usually lives outside, make an exception for this night. Trust me, they’ll thank you for it!
  • Create a Safe Space: Try to provide an enclosed, dark space where your pet can hide if they feel scared. Maybe it’s their favourite spot under the bed or a cosy nook in the cupboard.
  • Distraction: A bit of distraction doesn’t go amiss. Perhaps their favourite toy or a special treat will keep their mind off those scary sounds.
  • Stay Calm: Pets often take cues from their human pals. So, do your best to stay calm and routine to help your furry friend feel secure.

Remember, Guy Fawkes Night should be a night of fun for everyone, and that includes the four-legged members of our family, too.

Different Traditions and Celebrations that Utilise Fireworks

Thinking about Guy Fawkes Night, I’m sure you’ve noticed that fireworks aren’t an exclusively British tradition or something we do only on the 5th of November. So why do we find fireworks lighting up the night sky at different events worldwide? Let’s go on a journey and explore a few global traditions that incorporate these beautiful and dynamic spectacles.

New Year’s Eve Celebrations 

Now, remember staying up on New Year’s Eve waiting for the clock to hit midnight? What’s the first thing we see and hear when we welcome the New Year? That’s right, fireworks! From Sydney’s Harbour Bridge to London’s Thames River and our very own Auckland Sky Tower, fireworks have become synonymous with the ringing in of a new year. And remember – different cultures celebrate New Year’s at other times – Chinese New Year is around February, and Matariki is June (based on the Gregorian calendar we use). 

The Japanese Hanabi Taikai 

You know how much your old man loves sushi, right? Well, Japan, the land of sushi, has a summer tradition called the ‘Hanabi Taikai’, a series of firework festivals between July and August. Let me paint a picture for you: imagine picnics under the starlit sky, Yukatas (Japanese summer kimonos), traditional food stalls, and yes, my personal favourite, sushi- all while thousands of fireworks burst and dance their way across the night sky. How amazing would that be?

Diwali Festival in India 

Lastly, let’s take a virtual trip to India. Diwali, or the Festival of Lights as it’s also known, is a significant occasion marked by millions of lit lamps, sweets, and, you guessed it, fireworks! These are not just for show but have a deeper symbolic meaning. They’re meant to represent the victory of light over darkness and the triumph of good over evil. Plus, imagine all the incredible flavours of India, the curries, the bread, and the sweets- it’s a feast for all senses! 

So, my curious little adventurers, from the history of Guy Fawkes Night to our fascination with fireworks, isn’t it amazing how one plot to blow up a government building has given us an excuse to learn some chemistry, travel the world, and of course, how to be careful and considerate while having a ball of a time? It’s funny how things work out, right?