Thursday, November 4, 2010

Guy Fawkes Day

Guy Fawkes Day, or Guy Fawkes Night, is a celebration of the protestant victory over the gunpowder plot of November 5th, 1605. To this day, the holiday is celebrated with fireworks and bonfires...and the burning of effigies. To explain this, let's look into the past.

In the early 1600's, England was ruled by the Protestant King, James I. Hopes that religious tolerance towards Catholics would soften under James I wasn't happening, so English Catholics planned to assassinate James I, and put his nine-year old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, as Catholic Head of State. The group that planned to assassinate James I was led by Sir Robert Catesby who got together a group of men that was to blow up the House of Lords as Parliament met there. Guy Fawkes, being part of the group, had 10 years military experience and was given the job of handling the explosives. Unfortunately for the English Catholics, an anonymous letter found its way to William Parker, who gathered authorities and stopped Guy Fawkes from leveling the House of Lords. Fawkes had 36 barrels of gunpowder, which was more than enough to take down the House of Lords and kill anyone inside. Catesby was killed while trying to resist being captured and the other plotters were eventually captured, sentenced to death, and hung. The author of the anonymous letter has yet to be concretely proven.

Thus, the "Thanksgiving Act" was passed, ensuring that for more than 250 years November 5th was kept free as a day of thanksgiving. The day basically became one big Anti-Catholic celebration. The night, from the beginning, involved fireworks and the burning of a Guy Fawkes effigy. In England, specific foods were also eaten on Guy Fawkes Night, including bangers and mash, baked potatoes, and toffee apples. Guy Fawkes Night became a popular celebration in the U.K., and in it's colonies. This of course included the 13 British colonies in America, which celebrated Guy Fawkes Night (or Pope's Day as it was sometimes called) in the early days as a alternative to the Catholic celebration of Halloween that fell a few days earlier. Northern Ireland does not however celebrate the holiday, for they prefer celebrating the 12th of November, which commemorates the victory by King William the Orange over Catholic King James II.

The holiday has come upon a resurgence in America thanks to Alan Moore's graphic novel, V for Vendetta. The novel uses Guy Fawkes' story as a loose backdrop to the dystopian English future. The novel was also made into a movie which has furthered people's knowledge of the holiday and furthered Alan Moore's frustration with people making movies out of his graphic novels.

So was Guy Fawkes a man out to destroy the establishment and be an anarchist? Not so much, due to the fact that they were setting up a Catholic monarchy. The main character in the novel may sport Guy Fawkes face, but he is much more anarchist than the actual Guy Fawkes ever was.

So if you feel like celebrating the victory of Protestants over Catholics over 400 years ago, then grab your torch and burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes tonight!

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd (or by God's mercy*)
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holla boys, Holla boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!

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