For any British readers today is a significant date, for it is the day when, in 1605 Robert Catesby’s plot to destroy the English Parliament using gunpowder was foiled. One of the conspirators, Guy Fawkes was caught red handed guarding barrels of gunpowder that had been placed under the House of Lords so that it would kill everyone inside. The plot uncovered, Guy Fawkes was subjected to terrible torture and, along with his co-conspirators, executed.
Subsequently, throughout Britain the public have celebrated this date as “Guy Fawkes Night” or “Bonfire Night” when large community bonfires are built, usually with an effigy (“guy”) set atop, and fireworks are set as celebration. The ancient rhyme is also recited, or at least it was when I was a kid:
Remember, remember, the 5th of November
The Gunpowder Treason and plot;
I know of no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
We always looked forward to the fireworks, the huge bonfire, and also the tradition of children making their own guys and then attempting to collect a “penny for the guy” in order to be able to raise cash to buy fireworks. I don’t think this happens so much anymore, at least the children buying fireworks part.
Another more modern development is the use of current figures of hate on the bonfires. Ironically, the British Prime Minister has been the target on several occasions, and I recall Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair being featured, but often there are international guys too, such as foreign “dignitaries” who have particularly struck a negative cord with the British populace.
One of the oldest and largest Guy Fawkes Festivals is the Lewes Bonfire Night Celebration which takes place in the tows, East Sussex. Here there are several competing societies that plan their effigies for months and compete in a parade followed by a series of bonfires.
As an American citizen, of British heritage, I can only remark on how fitting that this should be celebrated a mere 3 days ahead of US election day 2016, a situation that has not escaped the teams at Lewes in their choice of effigies to burn this year.