The tradition of Guy Fawkes-related bonfires actually began the very same
year as the failed coup. The Plot was foiled in the night between the 4th
and 5th of November 1605. Already on the 5th, agitated Londoners who knew
little more than that their King had been saved, joyfully lit bonfires in
thanksgiving. As years progressed, however, the ritual became more elaborate.
Soon, people began placing effigies onto bonfires, and fireworks were added
to the celebrations. Effigies of Guy Fawkes, and sometimes those of the
Pope, graced the pyres. Still today, some communities throw dummies of both
Guy Fawkes and the Pope on the bonfire (and even those of a contemporary
politician or two), although the gesture is seen by most as a quirky tradition,
rather than an expression of hostility towards the Pope.
Preparations for Bonfire Night celebrations include making a dummy of Guy
Fawkes, which is called "the Guy". Some children even keep up
an old tradition of walking in the streets, carrying "the Guy"
they have just made, and beg passersby for "a penny for the Guy." The kids
use the money to buy fireworks for the evening festivities.
On the night itself, Guy is placed on top of the bonfire, which is then
set alight; and fireworks displays fill the sky.
The extent of the celebrations and the size of the bonfire varies from
one community to the next. Lewes, in the South East of England, is famous
for its Bonfire Night festivities and consistently attracts thousands of
people each year to participate.
Bonfire Night is not only celebrated in Britain. The tradition crossed
the oceans and established itself in the British colonies during the centuries.
It was actively celebrated in New England as "Pope Day" as late
as the 18th century. Today, November 5th bonfires still light up in far
out places like New Zealand and Newfoundland in Canada.