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A penny for Guy

Halloween is fine, but it's November 5th that brings Britons out at night

Halloween owes a lot to the soil of Britain, where the ancestors of today's Britons celebrated the close of the harvest season on Samhain, traditionally the last day of October. The ancient Celts believed that the fabric between the world as we know it and the spiritual plane was thinnest on this day, and that the souls of the dead were able to visit their former home at that time.

When the Romans conquered Britain in the first century, they added their own festival celebrations to the Celts'. Later, the Christians affixed All Saints Day -- Allhallowmas -- to November 1, dubbing the night before All Hallows Eve, or Hallowe'en for short.

Parde

But the British really throw a show a few days AFTER Halloween, when the bonfires burn and the fireworks go off to mark the day almost 400 years ago when a plot to create a very real explosion was thwarted.

On November 5, 1605, 36 barrels of gunpowder were found in a cellar beneath Parliament in London -- part of a plot to bring down the English legislative center and King James I, who would have been inside along with his family and all the members of Parliament.

A fellow named Guy Fawkes was pegged as the mastermind of the plan, purportedly protesting religious persecution of Catholics in England -- and perhaps hoping to return England to Catholic control. After the discovery of the so-called Gunpowder Plot, there was much gruesome torture of Fawkes and 12 others believed to be involved (all were eventually killed) ... and an annual celebration dubbed Guy Fawkes Day was born.

To mark Guy Fawkes Day, children traditionally carry effigies of Fawkes -- known affectionately as "Guys" -- begging for "a penny for Guy," which they use to buy fireworks. The effigies are later burned.

Bonfire

Bonfires are really big -- the bigger, the better. Without the space for such a large pyrotechnical display, tar barrels work quite well. Bells are rung, and in general celebrants act a little ... well, wild.

Fawkes, incidentally, was executed on January 31, 1606, one of the world's most infamous terrorists. Or was he? You guessed it -- conspiracy theories abound, and some contend Fawkes was framed.



INSIDE THE LONDON TOWER | JACK THE RIPPER | A PENNY FOR GUY
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