This posting refers to a specifically British custom that I’m afraid might not mean a lot to readers in America.
On November the Fifth for several centuries we have marked the foiling of a plot by oppressed and disaffected Catholics to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Londoners celebrated the occasion every year since by lighting fires and burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes, who wasn’t the leader of the plot (that was Robert Catesby) but the man who was going to light the fuse.
But we tend to call the occasion ‘Bonfire Night’. Why ‘bonfire’? Well, it’s actually an amalgamation of two or even three quite separate events in the calendar, the other two being far more ancient than even the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The name itself is derived from the Anglo-Saxon ‘bone fires’ – when animals were slaughtered to provide stocks of meat for the winter. However, the proximity of Bonfire Night to Halloween is no coincidence either, because even before the Saxons came to Britain, the Celts burned the bones of sacrificed animals (and possibly even humans) at this time of the year to mark the end of summer.
So it seems that these three traditions, which all happened to be marked at around the same time of the year, have gradually merged into one.