It’s Guy Fawkes Day: What Does That Mean?

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A mass of torch-lit processions fill the tiny streets of Lewes, a small medieval town in the South of England, 05 November, to commemorate Guy Fawkes Day


Today is Guy Fawkes Day! Awesome! Wait… what does that mean? Do we get presents?

Guy Fawkes Day dates back to the failed 1605 attempt by a group of English Catholics (among them Guy Fawkes) to assassinate King James I of England and blow up the Houses of Parliament. Two years ago, our colleague Alex Altman explained the history of the holiday, and how it is celebrated:

Today, Guy Fawkes Day — also known as Bonfire Night — is marked across the United Kingdom by celebrations. To foot the bill for the traditional fireworks, children roam the streets in the days leading up to the event, brandishing their effigies — known as “Guys” — and ask passers-by for a “penny for the guy.” (The phrase famously serves as the second epigraph to T.S. Eliot’s 1927 meditation on despair, “The Hollow Men.”) Families gather for food and festivities that might seem incongruous with the event’s bloody origins — although perhaps not as incongruous as lighting fireworks and bonfires to celebrate an abortive attempt at arson.

Besides inspiring a festive night of bonfires, Fawkes has become in recent years has become a hero to modern activists in the Tea Party movement, as well as to the anonymous Internet muckrakers at 4chan. One fundraising drive for ur-Tea Partier Ron Paul’s 2008 Presidential campaign explicitly referenced the famous “Remember remember the fifth of November” rhyme; as one Ron Paul supporter told the New Yorker on the occasion, “It gets quite confusing … On a date that’s meant to be anti the guy who’s anti-Parliament, the idea here is to be giving money to someone who’s anti-Parliament.” (via the Christian Science Monitor)