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Bonfire night is coming

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Every year on the 5th of November in Great Britain, people commemorate Guy Fawkes by lighting bonfires and watching firework displays. Guy Fawkes Night, Guy Fawkes Day, Bonfire Night, and Firework Night are other names for this holiday.

When the Gunpowder Plotters were apprehending Guy Fawkes on November 5, 1605, he was guarding explosives they had hidden beneath the House of Lords. People lit bonfires to commemorate King James I’s survival following the assassination attempt, and the introduction of the Observance of 5th November Act imposed an annual public day of thanksgiving for the assassination attempt’s failure months later.

As time passed, Gunpowder Treason Day grew in popularity as a national holiday in England, but it also served as a rallying point for anti-Catholic sentiment due to its strong Protestant religious overtones. Puritans preached about the dangers of popery, while the general public burned effigies of hate-figures like the pope during increasingly raucous celebrations.

Children were begging for money with Guy Fawkes effigies by the end of the 18th century, and so the 5th of November came to be known as Guy Fawkes Day. In the nineteenth century, places like Lewes and Guildford saw an increase in the number of violent class clashes, giving rise to traditions that the two towns continue to celebrate today, albeit in a more peaceful manner.

After changing attitudes in the 1850s, much of the anti-Catholic rhetoric of the time was toned down, and in 1859, the Observance of 5th November Act was repealed. Eventually, the violence subsided, and Guy Fawkes Day had evolved into a fun social tradition by the turn of the 20th century, albeit one that had lost much of its original meaning. Guy Fawkes Night in the modern era is usually marked by large, well-attended gatherings centred around a bonfire and opulent firework displays.

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