Guy Fawkes Day is another one of those mergers between an old existing holiday and a newer one. In this case, the Catholic holidays of Nov. 1 and 2 were displaced for the Protestant celebration on Nov. 5. The latter commemorates the day in 1605 that Guy Fawkes, a Catholic dissident, and his co-conspirators had planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament, killing government members and King James I in order to re-establish Catholic rule in England. He didn't succeed, as his plot was discovered. The next year, British Parliament declared Nov. 5 a day of thanksgiving and celebration [source: Brittanica].
The English began celebrating it in the same fashion as they had celebrated the previous holidays, mainly by lighting massive bonfires. Sometimes they would toss items such as stones, veggies and nuts into the bonfire to scare away evil spirits. And similarly to the Irish Samhain, they used the bonfire for divination. For example, if a couple tossed nuts into the bonfire and they exploded, that meant the duo would not have a happy marriage.
Over time, Guy Fawkes festivities included fireworks, parades, family celebrations and burning effigies of Fawkes, known as "Guys." In a nod to the practice of trick-or-treating, kids showed off their effigies to neighbors, asking for "a penny for the Guy." But the bonfire is the staple activity, and Guy Fawkes Day became also known as Bonfire Night [source: Altman]. Today, some in the U.K. fear it's being overshadowed by the American import, Halloween.