Guy Fawkes Night — dedicated to remembering the failed plot of a group of men who lived and died four centuries ago — is probably most famous to all of us as something everyone keeps mentioning in "V for Vendetta," the 2005 film starring Natalie Portman.
The night is celebrated on Nov. 5 of each year. The holiday has several other names, including Gunpowder Treason Day and Bonfire Night.
According to Wikipedia, the celebration was enshrined in the United Kingdom by the Observance of 5th November Act, passed after the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 failed. That plan, put on by Catholic insurgents against the Protestant royals, involved explosives, Parliament's House of Lords and the life of King James I. Fawkes was arrested while guarding the explosives.
When citizens heard their king's life had been saved, they reportedly took to the streets, lighting bonfires across London.
In the centuries since, the holiday's popularity has waxed and waned. Its traditions include lighting effigies of Guy Fawkes, setting fireworks and, as in "Vendetta," recitation of songs and rhymes including the phrase, "Remember, remember, the fifth of November, Gunpowder Treason and Plot." In recent years, "Guy Fawkes masks" — with rounded, mirthful eye holes and pointy facial hair — have also become a part of the ritual.
Guy Fawkes Night has its share of controversies as well, with some pointing to historical anti-Catholic roots. (Those Fawkes effigies are sometimes replaced by effigies of the Pope.)
Not every country celebrates the night, but several do. The British exported it successfully across the former empire, to Australia, Canada and others. Through the years, there has been some evidence of "underground" enthusiasm for the anniversary in America.
Will you be lighting a bonfire this year (or wearing one of those creepy masks)?