Essentially we brits light a bonfire stick an effigy or guy on top of it and then let off loads of Fireworks. As a total grumpy puss I totally ignore it.
This is all in "celebration" of the foiling of the Gundpower plot. The gunpowder plot was an attempt by a group of provincial catholics to kill King James I, his family, and most of the protestant aristocracy at the state opening of parliament.
The principal plotter was one Robert Catesby although the most famous of the plotters was Guy Fawkes whose job was to prepare the explosives and light the fuse. The plots aim was to install James' 9 year old daughter on the throne and start a rebellion.
They leased a cellar under the house of Lords and proceeded to fill it with 36 barrells of gunpowder.
During preparations some of the conspiritors became concerned about fellow catholics who were to be present at the opening. Eventually someone, probably Francis Tresham, wrote a letter of warning to his brother-in-law Lord Monteagle, a prominent Catholic, which he received on Friday October 26.
My lord, out of the love I bear to some of your friends, I have a care for your preservation. Therefore I would advise you, as you tender your life, to devise some excuse to shift of your attendance at this Parliament, for God and man hath concurred to punish the wickedness of this time.
Monteagle handed the note to Robert Cecil, Secretary of State. At midnight on November 5 Thomas Knyvet, a Justice of the Peace, and a party of armed men, discovered Fawkes guarding a pile of faggots. Fawkes was arrested and rest of the conspirators were caught and executed.
To this day the Houses of Parliament are still searched by the Yeomen of the Guard before the State Opening of Parliament.
The plot put back Catholic Emancipation which took another 200 years.
Why Catholic Emancipation was needed goes back to Henry VIII wanting to marry Anne Boleyn and dissolving the monastries. Along the way you had Mary I (bloody Mary), Elizabeth I and the Armada. Various catholic plots to overthrow the then protestant monarchy oh and a Civil War.
The Guy on top of the bonfire is meant to symbolise Guy Fawkes but nowadays can be any unpopular current figure. I suspect most people don't realise that it goes back to a plot against the monarch 4 centuries ago.