What’s the Deal with November 5th?

November 5th in the UK represents Bonfire Night and is celebrated with firework displays and, as the name suggests, bonfires. But why do the British celebrate this day with such pyrotechnics? Well, it all started with a man called Guy Fawkes, who lived over 400 years ago!

In 1605 a group of Catholic plotters, including Guy Fawkes, attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London with barrels of gunpowder placed in the basement in a plan that became known as The Gunpowder Plot. Their goal was to kill King James I, along with his advisers, who had passed a number of laws that targeted Catholics, forcing them to practice their religion in secret.

Guy Fawkes was given the job of keeping watch over the barrels of gunpowder and of lighting the fuse when Parliament was opened by the King. Unfortunately for Fawkes, he was discovered by soldiers before he could light the trail of gunpowder on the morning of November 5th. He was promptly arrested and taken to the Tower of London, where he was tortured until he gave up the names of his accomplices and divulged details about the plot. All 13 of those involved in the plot were either killed in a siege or publicly executed in a rather barbaric practice whereby they were hung until almost dead, dragged through the streets and then, quite literally, quartered.

In celebration of his survival, the King ordered that the people of England should hold great bonfires on November 5th and this traditional holds true today, when communities come together around a bonfire for the “burning of the Guy” (an effigy of Guy Fawkes that is often made by local school children) and for a firework display.

However, these days, some believe that Guy Fawkes and his “conspirators” may well have been framed by the King’s men. While there is no doubt that there was an attempt to blow up Parliament, some believe that it may have been staged in some way by the authorities in an attempt to cast Catholics as enemies. Consequently, some have been known to wonder, in a tongue in cheek way, whether Bonfire Night celebrates Fawkes’ execution or honors his attempt to do away with the Government!

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