So you guys have the 4th of July as your day to let of fireworks all over the place, and we have the 5th of November – tonight – Guy Fawkes night!

More commonly known as ‘bonfire night’, tonight is a night when everyone goes out into the biting cold and stands around a great big fire, roast horse chestnuts and make whooing and whaaing noises as they watch a firework display.

I don’t know how many of you Americans are familiar with this tradition in Britain, probably none of you right? I mean, why would you. Surely it would be like me asking someone over here when Presidents Day was in America or some Canadian thing right?

Now I appreciate that none of you will really be that interested in the history of the event but allow me, if you will, to take a couple of moments and tell you why we celebrate today, and why we choose to do so with fireworks.

In a nutshell it’s a celebration of the fact that ‘we’ overcame an act of religiously motivated terrorism. Yep, we were overcoming that stuff way before Yahoo Bush came along with his war on terror (had to get a political stab in there didn’t I!).

It was 400 years ago that religiously motivated plotters attempted to blow up The Houses of Parliament during its state opening. The group were well-connected Catholics radicalised by continued persecution under King James the first. Their aim was to kill the King, his heir, and all the bishops and lords, and that by doing so they would throw England into a crisis and thus have the opportunity to put a Catholic on the throne.

The leader, Robert Catesby, found a Yorkshire mercenary calling himself Guido Fawkes who had honed his skills with gunpowder while serving for the Spanish army in the Netherlands. Another of the gang, Thomas Percy, leased a cellar under parliament. Fawkes worked with them, loading it at night with gunpowder from a store on the other side of the Thames. In total they loaded 36 barrels of gunpoweder into the cellar room under the House of Lords in the new Parliament building, that’s two and a half tonnes! However, he was caught on November 4, a day before the state opening, and put under arrest. After six days of being tortured on the rack, he gave full details of the plot, though his injuries were so horrific it was another six days before he could be questioned again. (Sounds like Guantanamo Bay if you ask me.)

Catesby, Percy and two others who had fled north were shot dead. The rest were captured and put on trial for high treason the following January. They were sentenced to be publicly hung, drawn and quartered, a practice that included castration and being disembowelled alive.

Today, in a rather macabre celebration of the fact that the plot failed, we just burn effigies of Fawkes on fires lit on the evening of November 5th. Firework displays light up the sky across the country and due to the cold air this usually leads to a murky fog and smell of fire for the rest of the night. It’s all good fun really, though I wonder how many Brits truly know the depth of the story involved?

Anyway, it’s a great excuse to get together with friends and let of fireworks that make really loud bangs! So tonight that is exactly what I’m doing.

Wikipedia : Guy Fawkes : Guy Fawkes
What if Guy Fawkes had succeeded?