Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
Probably few Americans are aware of the significance of November 5th or of Guy Fawkes Night: a celebration to commemorate the failed attempt made by Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators to blow up the English Parliament in 1605. As a devout Catholic, Guy Fawkes hoped that his actions would end the discrimination of Protestant England towards Catholics. From that day forward, the 5th of November was commemorated by British citizens with the burning in effigy of Guy Fawkes, along with a celebration of God's providence in protecting their Protestant King.
In colonial America, Guy Fawkes Night was celebrated as "Pope Day" (or "Pope Night"). Young men from New England would traditionally construct large wagons (with figures of the Pope, the Devil and other Catholic figures, along with unpopular British governing officials all to be burned in effigy), which were drawn throughout the public streets for all to see. The young men would even dress up and petition the affluent of the city for money which was used for getting drunk and having a "splendid supper." As Historian J.L. Bell (of Boston, 1775 fame) points out on his 5th of November website:
In the mid-1700s, the 5th of November was one of Boston’s most popular holidays. On that day, apprentices and young men paraded through town with giant effigies of the Devil, the Pope, and current political scapegoats, demanding coins from householders and passersby.In essence, "Pope Day" became yet another example of how Colonial American bred a culture of anti-authoritarianism. Pope Day evolved to become not only a day to mock Catholicism but a day to also express disgust with colonial (particularly British) government.
At nightfall, Boston’s North End and South End gangs met in the middle of town and brawled. The winners hauled away the other side’s paraphernalia and burned all the effigies in a festive bonfire. In 1764 the event became so violent that a young boy was killed, his head crushed by a wagon wheel.
In the decade that followed, the 5th of November processions became closely linked to the town’s protests against Parliamentary taxes. That political conflict led to the American Revolution. Ironically, the Revolutionary War ended up doing away with the 5th of November holiday in America.
In addition, it is interesting to note how "Pope Day" gave birth to many of the traditional Halloween customs that are still in practice today. As Mr. Bell points out above (and throughout his website) the tradition of children running though the streets in costume asking for money, treats, etc. was most certainly a common practice on the 5th of November.
With that said, let us not forget the origins behind this anti-Catholic celebration. Guy Fawkes became, for many colonial Americans, the perfect scape goat for all their anti-Catholic rhetoric. The following poem helps to capture at least a portion of that popular anti-Catholicism:
A penny loaf to feed the Pope
A farthing o' cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A fagot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we'll say ol' Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah hoorah!