Wednesday, November 5th marks Guy Fawkes Night in England. While many Americans are only familiar with Guy Fawkes because of the film V for Vendetta, Guy Fawkes Night – or Bonfire Night as it is sometimes called – is an important cultural tradition worth getting to know if you’re spending the fall (Or as it’s called here autumn) in the United Kingdom.
Guy Fawkes was indeed an actual person who was involved in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, which aimed to assassinate King James I of England as he attended the official Opening of Parliament, which would also destroy Parliament in the process. Guy Fawkes was arrested while guarding a pile of explosives hidden under the House of Lords, and thus the treasonous plot failed to come to fruition.
Fawkes was arrested on November 4, 1605 and his subsequent conviction and execution occurred the following January. The first bonfires began on 1605 as a way to celebrate the King still being alive. Parliament then passed the ‘ Observance of 5th November Act 1605’ which meant every year there would be a public celebration for the failure of the plot. Now his failure is celebrated annually on the fifth of November, and typically includes large fireworks displays and bonfires. It is not unusual for the bonfires to start with the burning of Guy Fawkes in effigy, typically made of straw or wood.
If you are lucky enough to be in England in the fall, take in the local fireworks display in your city. You won’t be disappointed!