Remember, Remember, the Fifth of... Wait, Why Is Guy Fawkes Day Celebrated Anyway?

Katherine Stinson - Author

Nov. 4 2022, Published 10:01 p.m. ET

A portrait of Guy Fawkes
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November... the question is, why is Guy Fawkes Day actually celebrated? The other iconic November holiday (we still think Thanksgiving takes the November holiday crown here in the U.S.) is also referred to as Bonfire Night, because well, people light bonfires in honor of Guy Fawkes.

Here's why.

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Religious freedom in England in the 1600s was basically not a thing, especially if the reigning monarch just happened to practice a different religion than his or her subjects.

After Queen Elizabeth I, a Protestant, died in 1603, King James I, also a Protestant, ascended the throne. Guy Fawkes was a devout Catholic. Given that English subjects couldn't whine about their ruler on social media back then, Guy Fawkes was like, "I'll get rid of James so a Catholic can rule England."

A sketch of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

What is going the house of commons? Something rather explosive.

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Why is Guy Fawkes Day celebrated?

Guy Fawkes was rebelling against the King of England before it was cool basically (however, we don't condone assassination plots here). He and a group of fellow devout Catholics wanted to blow up the House of Lords, assassinate King James I, and install a Catholic monarch in his place.

Clearly, nobody taught Guy Fawkes the art of stealth, because he was caught guarding the gunpowder before the plan could take place.

After hours of torture, Guy Fawkes confessed to his scheme. The English officials who arrested him weren't merciful — common practice for traitors (that weren't royal or had some sort of prestige) in that day was hanging, drawing, and quartering.

Instead of going out with a bang, Guy Fawkes died of a broken neck.

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Guy Fawkes Day became a way to celebrate the failed Gunpowder Plot.

So no, Guy Fawkes Day revelers aren't celebrating the man himself. They're actually celebrating the failure of the Gunpowder Plot, and Guy Fawkes's failed attempt to assassinate King James I.

In addition to bonfires being lit on Guy Fawkes Day, the man himself is frequently burned in effigy.

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Historically, Guy Fawkes Day was a way for Protestants to increase anti-Catholic sentiment, and celebrate the Protestant monarch's survival. Did you know that it was King James I himself who actually started the Guy Fawkes Day tradition (the Evening Standard noted this interesting fact).

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Wait, do Americans celebrate Guy Fawkes Day?

While some Americans do celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, it's considered a quintessential British celebration (let's not be holiday hogs, what with Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July now).

Essentially, Guy Fawkes Day is a celebration of the oldest tradition Britons hold dear — the life and safety of their beloved monarch.

However, if you're in the mood to blow off some steam without assassinating a monarch, light a bonfire or a few sparklers in honor of the failed Gunpowder Plot.

And remember, remember, the Fifth of November!

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