Remember, Remember, The Fifth Of November: How Guy Fawkes Day Is Like Britain’s Fourth Of July

Four hundred years after an act of terrorism almost destroyed the British government, the country's people celebrate it in a variety of ways.

today is guy fawkes day
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Four hundred years after an act of terrorism almost destroyed the British government, the country's people celebrate it in a variety of ways.

Happy Guy Fawkes Day! Today is November 5, or Guy Fawkes Day as it’s known in Britain and across much of the Commonwealth, and for those not familiar, here’s the briefest of brief explanations for how and why this day is the sort-of British equivalent to America’s Fourth of July.

America’s national holiday commemorates a vote (a mundane, procedural vote that had no real impact on the independence process). The United Kingdom’s national holiday commemorates a foiled terrorist plot.

Who Was Guy Fawkes?

He was a terrorist.

We’re going to gloss over a century or so of complicated historical and political nuance, but long story short: by November 4, 1605, things between Catholics and Protestants in England were, shall we say, tense. Fawkes, a Catholic, joined up with other terrorists in a plot to blow up the Parliament building and, in the process, destroy the House of Lords and, with any luck, kill then-King James I, when Parliament opened the next day (November 5). His hope was that the ensuing events would install a pro-Catholic government, granting rights that had been denied to other Catholics. (NOTE: That is the simplest and most basic of explanations of an intensely complicated political and religious situation that would take hundreds if not thousands of words to properly explain.)

Unfortunately for Fawkes and his co-conspirators, a snitch turned them in. And on the night of November 4, Fawkes was found underneath the building guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder – more than enough to destroy the building and kill everyone therein.

The plot having been foiled, the people (the Protestants, anyway) of England and Scotland celebrated by lighting bonfires, ringing church bells, and making general merriment to commemorate the foiled Gunpowder Plot, as it came to be known. The event commemorated each year afterward, and a 400-year tradition was born.

Fawkes, for his part, was tortured, then hanged, drawn and quartered.

How Guy Fawkes Day (Night, Actually) Is Celebrated

For starters, there’s that poem that you might have learned in elementary school, or if you watched the 2005 movie V for Vendetta.

Remember, remember,
The Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and plot.

Across the British Isles, the night is marked by bonfires (indeed, it’s also called “Bonfire Night”), burning effigies of the terrorist whose name the day bears. And like its American counterpart national holiday, the night is also celebrated by launching fireworks, according to the BonfireNight website.

Tonight, fireworks displays are planned for major cities across England and Scotland, according to The Express. Look for smaller, more localized celebrations in smaller communities across the British Isles.