Saturday, November 5, 2011

Remember the Fifth of November

If you think of Guy Fawkes, you probably think of this mask.

You might think of a man "who died for what he believed in." (per Fawkes from Fallout 3)

You might not realize his fame comes from, as Wikipedia puts it, "a failed conspiracy by a group of provincial English Catholics to assassinate the Protestant King James I of England (James VI of Scotland) and replace him with a Catholic head of state."

This scheme, known as the Gunpowder Plot, was discovered 5 November 1605 when Guy Fawkes was caught with explosives underneath the House of Lords.

In celebration of the Plot's failure, the citizenry lit bonfires, leading to the popular name of this British holiday - Bonfire Night. Fireworks are also on prominent display.

It used to be that Bonfire Night was Britain's big autumn celebration. Halloween was not an important holiday in the UK until very recently, when Americanization finally conquered the indigenous customs. (But hey, who can hold out long against the idea of free candy, right?)

Of course, if you participated in Bonfire Night, you could get free money. Children would build effigies of Guy Fawkes (to burn on November 5th) and, in the days running up to the holiday, ask for donations toward funding their firework purchases. The traditional phrase to employ for this is: "Penny for the Guy?"

By paddy patterson from Ayr, Scotland (penny for the guy) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Back when Britain was the one doing the conquering, the American colonies celebrated Bonfire Night, too. In fact, it was celebrated in Salem Massachusetts as late as 1817. That's after two wars against the British, mind. Salem likes its parties.

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