Guy Fawkes Day: Celebrating a Terrorist?

"Remember, remember the 5th of November ..." when a crazy Catholic Englishman and his buddies planned to blow up Protestant King James. That was Guy Fawkes, and every year Brits celebrate the failed assassination with bonfires, burning Fawkes in effigy.

Leaving aside any commentary on how Fawkes' and his conspirators' plot illustrates how evil is perpetrated in the name of religion, is Guy Fawkes Day worth celebrating? Is it meant to cheer the survival of the English monarchy in the face of terrorists, or should it be a day to recognize the rebellion of citizens against a government they saw as corrupt?


A little more background: Catholics were increasingly oppressed in England under King James' rule. Fawkes was a devout Catholic who fought on the side of Spain in the Eighty Years War (which had Catholic-Protestant antipathy at its core) and sought Spain's help in launching a Catholic rebellion in England. Dissatisfied with the tepid responses he received, he joined up with a group of Catholics akin to a modern day militia, bent on taking out King James and replacing him with his Catholic daughter, Elizabeth.

The plot failed, the gunpowder under Parliament failed to light, and Fawkes was captured, tortured, and executed. Celebrate good times, c'mon!

Don't get me wrong; I love fireworks, and bonfires are great for keeping toasty warm and roasting marshmallows. We also have some holidays here in the United States that don't make much sense but still inspire celebrations and demonstrations -- Columbus Day, for one.

I wonder how it would be received if April 19 was designated Timothy McVeigh Day or David Koresh Day (since both the Oklahoma City bombing and Branch Davidian massacre took place on that day). Would it be any more palatable if the bombing had failed or the Davidians had left the compound peacefully? Or is the Fawkes plot, like these events, better suited for history books than national celebrations?


Image via Harper's Magazine

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