This evening, millions of people in Great Britain (and some people elsewhere) will celebrate Guy Fawkes Night by setting off fireworks and building bonfires. Many will light effigies of Fawkes — a 17th century revolutionary — on fire. Full story:
  1. What's the history of Guy Fawkes Night?
    In 1605, a group of Catholic men planned to murder the king of England, on the 5th of November. Among them was Guy Fawkes. At midnight, he was caught under the parliament building with 36 barrels of gunpowder. He was tortured and executed. The plot led to a backlash against Catholics, who were already persecuted. Although Fawkes wasn't the leader of the plan (that was another dissident Robert Catesby), he became the most notorious revolutionary, and the event became known as the Gunpowder Plot.
  2. How did Guy Fawkes Night become a holiday?
    The anniversary of this event became a celebratory state holiday. At times it took on a more distinctly anti-Catholic sentiment, with effigies of the Pope and other Catholic symbols getting burned. Eventually, it became more common to burn an effigy of Fawkes and the anti-Catholic vibe was toned down a bit. Bonfire ceremonies often opened with a rhyming verse, which begins with a line you're probably familiar with: "Remember, remember! The fifth of November, The Gunpowder treason and plot."
  3. What do people do now for Guy Fawkes Night?
    The holiday has declined in importance in Britain in recent years (and there certainly aren't people lighting up cat-filled Pope effigies). But lots of people and communities still have bonfires, light fireworks, and sometimes burn Fawkes effigies. It's now known as Guy Fawkes Night, or sometimes Bonfire Night. The holiday is also celebrated in some other British Commonwealth countries, such as New Zealand, and was actually celebrated in the United States prior to the American Revolution.
  4. Isn't Guy Fawkes a symbol for modern protestors?
    Masks were often put on effigies before burning, and children wore the mask as a taunt. Most recently, the mask has been repurposed as an anti-goverment symbol, donned by protestors of all types. In the 1980s comic strip V for Vendetta, the protagonist — a vigilante fighting a future totalitarian government — wore a Fawkes mask similar to the ones frequently sold in those days. The 2006 movie adaptation raised the profile of the mask, and cemented it as a symbol of opposition to authority.