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Bonfire Night and Britishness

It’s that time of year again – when we flock to the streets and parks, scare our pets and wildlife by lighting a bonfire, and watch some sparkly lights in the sky. For 400 years, we have taken part in burning effigies of Guy Fawkes to celebrate his failed attempt to blow up the House of Lords. Why have we participated in this ritual for 400 years? Because we’re British of course, and there are many more quirky traditions that we can’t live without.

Bonfire Night

Many of us have been on holiday outside of England and indulged in the local food around us, but there’s one British commodity that Brits miss during that short time away – having a cup of tea in the morning with breakfast. We have made the cup of tea so integral in our routine that it’s hard to imagine life without it. Our obsession with having a cuppa is so strong that engineers at the National Grid control centre bases have to prepare themselves for the end of Eastenders. That’s right – as the credits roll at the end of the soap opera, these engineers cower as they cope with 1.75 million kettles turning on in a period of five minutes. Who would have thought that making a cup of tea would frighten someone so much? It seems absurd, but it really does happen. The BBC made a six minute video on the topic.

In 2010, Ricky Gervais hosted the Golden Globe awards for the first time, and he didn’t tame his British sense of humour. His hosting received a lot of criticism from viewers. During the three years that he continued to host the ceremony, Gervais made jokes about Mel Gibson’s and Charlie Sheen’s alcohol abuse – “It’s going to be a night of partying and heavy drinking or as Charlie Sheen calls it; breakfast” – which many of us Brits would find funny. Others did not, however. Our sense of humour is based on finding fun in everyday things – Jay from The Inbetweeners started off the new name for bus users, and it has now become part of our generation’s culture. In fact, our incredibly sarcastic and self-deprecating humour makes us such an eccentric nation that news magazine, Planet Ivy, published a pocket guide to understand our comedy. There wouldn’t be much to laugh at if we didn’t make fun of ourselves on a daily basis.

Between Christmas and Easter, there’s one day that Brits look forward to – Shrove Tuesday, or more commonly known as Pancake Day. What an excuse to show off our culinary skills – or lack thereof – and stuff our face with as many pancakes we want. Of course, this is not the real meaning of Shrove Tuesday. It’s the day that precedes Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and it is a good way to use up rich and fatty foods before fasting for 40 days. In some parts of the UK, pancake races are still held throughout the day. Imagine running through the streets with frying pans while tossing pancakes into the air and catching them at the same time. It sounds fun, doesn’t it? Pancake Day falls on March 4 next year so mark your calendars now folks.

But for now, Brits are heading into winter, and this highlights one of our other quirky traits – our constant moaning about the weather. But despite our whinges, we never fail to celebrate Bonfire Night. “Remember, remember, the Fifth of November”, and how cold it was watching the pretty fireworks.


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October 2021
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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