How to Have a Sensory-Friendly Guy Fawkes Celebration

Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night is a celebration that occurs in the United Kingdom in November. This celebration is associated with costumes, fireworks and bonfires. As well as large crowds of people. For many people, this is an exciting and sensory-rich celebration. However, this celebration may also be stressful and overwhelming for people who experience sensory sensitivity or sensor overload. To avoid these stressors, create a sensory-friendly Guy Fawkes celebration for everyone to enjoy!

This blog post highlights simple yet effective ways to create a more sensory-friendly Guy Fawkes Night. For the purpose of this blog post, Stella Waterhouse, author and autism educator, was interviewed on ways this celebration can be more sensory-friendly.

What is sensory-rich about Guy Fawkes Night?

Firstly, it is important to understand why Guy Fawkes celebrations are considered to be sensory-rich. According to Waterhouse, the main issues with this celebration are the noise, lights and crowds. Guy Fawkes night typically involves bright and loud fireworks. It also includes bonefire shows for communities to enjoy. These celebrations results in large groups of people gathering together to watch the festivities and to socialize. However, as a result, it is common for there to be loud sounds and bright lights from fireworks, bonefires and people celebrating. Additionally, the large gathering of people can cause elevated levels of stress and anxiety for some people. Ultimately, these factors can all lead toward a sensory overload response.

Infographic highlighting 5 ways to host a sensory-friendly Guy Fawkes celebration.

Preparation is essential

According to Waterhouse, preparing in advance is an essential component of celebrating a new holiday or event with your sensory-sensitive child. For many children, participating in an unknown experience disrupts their typical routine. This can feel very confusing and stressful. Additionally, even if your child attended a Guy Fawkes celebration previously, they may not remember the celebration.

Provide information

To best prepare your child, it is beneficial to tell them all the information about the event that you can provide. For example, explain the history and purpose of this celebration. Also, consider creating a countdown. You can display the countdown calendar in your home a month or a few weeks away from the event. This will remind your child when the festivities will begin.

Waterhouse suggests a schedule for the day of the event with your child. This helps if you have a long day of festivities planned. You and your child can refer to it to see what comes next.

Show pictures and videos

Another way to prepare your child for the celebration is by showing pictures or videos. This may involve showing pictures of your child at previous years celebrating Bonfire Night. On the other hand, it may simply be showing online pictures of other people celebrating. Ultimately, this will help your child better understand and imagine what the event feels like.

Additionally, Waterhouse encourages watching online videos of bonfires and firework shows. This allows your child to understand the entirety of the sensory experience to prepare them.

Create a social story

Lastly, Waterhouse states that creating a social story of Guy Fawkes Night is an extremely beneficial strategy to prepare your child. A social story is a visual and written description highlighting the social experience from start to finish. Additionally, you can highlight different coping mechanisms. This will help your child best envision how the event will feel.

Create a sensory-friendly kit

It is important to understand that although you may make efforts to make a more sensory-friendly Guy Fawkes celebration, there are many sensory-rich components that are beyond your control. For example, if your neighbourhood puts on a fireworks show that is overwhelming for your child. Or the streets might be more crowded than what your child is typically comfortable with. Waterhouse highlights the importance in preventing your child from having a sensory overload response. Therefore, consider creating a sensory-friendly kit to help your child feel calm.

Beneficial sensory tools

A sensory kit is a toolbox of sensory tools that help your child modify their environment to their sensory preferences. Two sensory tools that may be beneficial for a Guy Fawkes celebration would be noise-cancelling earmuffs and sunglasses. It is likely that your neighbourhood will be louder. This may be due to crowds, celebratory festivities or fireworks. Additionally, the bright lights of bonfires and fireworks may be extremely irritating for someone with sensory sensitivities. Therefore, sunglasses may help your child better regulate their sensitivities.

In addition to these suggestions, Waterhouse suggests that there may be other tools that your child wants to include in their sensory toolbox. For example, maybe your child regulates their stress using fidgets, their favourite toy or weighted lap pads. Waterhouse discussed that some parents might bring mini pop-up tents for their child to use if they need a space to separate from the crowd. Ultimately, it is important that you personalized your child’s sensory kit to their likes and dislikes.

Group of people of all ages smiling watching firework show.

Attend or host a sensory-friendly fireworks show

According to a news blog from Penn Medicine titled, “The Overlooked Effects of Fireworks” by Chris Mallard (2020), people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) find fireworks a challenge. Loud and unexpected sounds from the fireworks can trigger traumatic experiences (Mallard, 2020) and that is a particular problem for veterans, too, who are more likely to experience PTSD 1. Making fireworks sensory-friendly helps children and adults, alike. To help make this more comfortable, consider attending or hosting a sensory-friendly fireworks show. Typically, this involves preparing your child for the firework show, providing sensory tools and identifying an indoor space to watch the firework show.

“Some kids find the actual brightness of the firework sky beautiful while others find it irritating and too bright.”

Stella Waterhouse, author and autism educator

Host your own Guy Fawkes night

Waterhouse mentioned that hosting a Guy Fawkes celebration in your backyard is an effective strategy to create a more sensory-friendly celebration. This ensures that your child is comfortable in their surroundings. Additionally, it allows them to go inside their home easily if they need a space to relax and regulate!

Another suggestion Waterhouse discussed is purchasing quiet fireworks. For many children, a stressful aspect of the Guy Fawkes event is the loud noises associated with fireworks. Therefore, consider alternative firework options if you still want to enjoy a light show while minimizing the sensory experience.

Review firework safety

An important aspect of a Guy Fawkes celebration is reviewing fire safety. As you will be watching fireworks or bonfire shows, your child must understand rules to ensure their safety.

This involves sitting down with your child and discussing where you will be standing when watching the fireworks show. Waterhouse recommend finding a standing or seating area where your family can watch the fireworks from that is less busy and stimulating. Additionally, talk about what your child can do if they start to feel uncomfortable. Ultimately, this will help ensure your child’s protection and well-being.

Adjust your expectations

Lastly, an important component of any sensory-friendly event that Warehouse discussed is adjusting your expectations. You may have envisioned that your child would want to participate in all the different festivities. However, in reality, your child may not be able to attend all the activities. Or maybe they prefer to participate in a different way. It is important to remind your child that they should communicate their needs with you and recognize that sensory preferences can differ. To do this, Waterhouse suggests giving children a choice when they want to leave an event and having flexibility in your planning as a parent. And always remember to respect their comfort levels. This help to make a more enjoyable celebration.

“What parents think is exciting for kids might be very difficult for some of them.”

Stella Waterhouse, author and autism educator

This blog post highlighted easy ways you can create a sensory-friendly Guy Fawkes celebration. Special thanks to Stella Waterhouse of Koloko Travel for her valuable contributions to this blog post! For more ideas on ways you can create a more sensory-friendly celebration, consider checking out Patient Info’s blog post!

Check out more ways to adapt your celebrations to be more inclusive:

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  1. Mallard, C. (2020). The Overlooked Effects of Fireworks. Penn Medicine News.
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