Monday, November 5, 2012

A Penny For The Old Guy

Remember, remember,
The fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason, and plot.
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy (or Guido) Fawkes was foiled this day in 1605 from bringing off a plan to blow up Parliament and members of the royal family (including the King) by touching off a huge cache of gunpowder stored under the House of Lords; it was hoped this would help return England to Catholicism.

In thanksgiving for deliverance from the plot, the government declared November 5 as a day of remembrance. It was celebrated with bonfires, and in time with an effigy or scarecrow of Guy Fawkes, sometimes stuffed with firecrackers, usually with a pointed hat and a lantern in hand, but always fantastically dressed. Children would carry the stuffed man around, asking for "A penny for the Guy," used to buy more fireworks or refreshments for the end of the day, when the Guy was thrown on the bonfire.

In the 19th century, any unusually dressed or raggedy person was called a "guy" after this scarecrow figure. In the United States the term lost any negative connotation. Whether you consider Guy Fawkes a villain or a hero, you memorialize him and the Fifth of November every time you call someone "guy."

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