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The history behind Guy Fawkes Day

"Remember, remember the fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot. I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot." -- "V for Vendetta"

CHARLESTON, W.Va. --  Most people don't know about Guy Fawkes Day, but it has a very special place in many Englishmen's hearts (and my own). The holiday dates back to 1605, when Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament -- specifically the House of Lords.

The Gunpowder Plot, as it is now known, was an assassination plot by a group of Catholics to kill King James I, a Protestant. After Fawkes was caught and killed, he was immortalized, even though he was one of as many as 13 members of the plot. Poems and rhymes, like the one above, help people remember what happened on the night of Nov. 5, 1605.

However, this holiday does not celebrate the attempt to destroy the Houses of Parliament. No, on that night, Londoners are encouraged to light bonfires to celebrate the fact that the king had escaped the assassination plot.

In 1606, Parliament passed the Observance of 5th November Act 1605, commonly known as the Thanksgiving Act. A new form of church service to be used on Nov. 5 was also added to the Church of England's Book of Modern Prayer.

Bonfires and fireworks have been displayed since then to commemorate this day. Another way people celebrate is by burning an effigy, usually of Fawkes, though people have been known to burn effigies of the Pope and other important political and religious figures, too. The Fawkes effigy is normally created by children and is made out of old clothes or newspaper.

In the 19th century, the term "guy" came to mean an oddly dressed person, but now it simply means any male figure. Fawkes is sometimes referred to as "the only man who ever entered Parliament with good intentions."

Few people who celebrate this day (especially outside of England) have not read the "V for Vendetta" comic or seen the 2005 movie based on it, but if you are new to the holiday, those are good places to start. Also, here are a few simple ways celebrate Guy Fawkes Day:

First, gather materials to burn (leaves, branches newspaper, etc.). Second, purchase fireworks and sparklers. Third, create a Guy Fawkes effigy; you can Google how to do this and find very good step-by-step instructions. Finally, light bonfire, set up a chair, sit back and enjoy the show.

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!


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