November 5th is Guy Fawkes Day (also known as Guy Fawkes Night, Bonfire Night, or Firework Night), an annual holiday commemorating the failed Gunpowder Plot on this date in 1605. Although Guy Fawkes was not the mastermind of the unexecuted terrorist act he is often given credit for the foiled plot conspiring to blow up England’s Houses of Parliament. When the act of treason was uncovered, Fawkes and the other rebels who contributed to the plan were tortured, hanged, and drawn and quartered. Several months later the Observance of 5th November Act made the day a public day of thanksgiving for the plot’s failure and the king’s survival.
Guy Fawkes Day has inevitably transformed through the centuries. At one time it was known as Gunpowder Treason Day, a state commemoration littered with anti-Catholic sentiment. In the late 1700′s the holiday often marked the appearance of children begging for money, armed with effigies of Fawkes and, later, it became an occasion for violent confrontations between opposing classes. But today Guy Fawkes Day is a good-natured social commemoration celebrated with bonfires and fireworks in the UK and other current and former British territories. Here in North America, Guy Fawkes Day was widely observed in the colonies prior to the American Revolution, but many Americans today only know the about the existence of Guy Fawkes thanks to the 2006 film V for Vendetta.
I am one of those aforementioned Americans. I had never heard of Guy Fawkes or the Gunpowder plot prior to seeing V for Vendetta. And even then my cartoonish idea of this snippet of history was colored by caricatured “V” masks and poetic rhymes. The only thing I really remember thinking when considering that Guy Fawkes had been a real person and part of this real historical event, was that the plot to blow up Parliament was really, really ballsy. So tonight, (after we realized that our previously planned “unofficial”, Sadie Hawkins Day, is actually next Saturday) Chris and I decided to learn a little more about the Gunpowder Plot. We found a half hour long BBC WorldWide program named Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot that turned out to be not only informative, but also humorous and entertaining. The show covered all of the history and details of the plot, but also mixed some modern music and technology in with the tongue-in-cheek reenactments and, of course, a big explosion. And now I’m proud to say I finally know a little about the real Guy Fawkes and one of the earliest preempted large-scale terrorist plots.