The 5th of November is a holiday in the UK. It’s called Guy Fawks Night or Bonfire Night and it commemorates the discovery and foiling of a the Gunpowder Plot-a plan organized by a group of English Catholics to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 while the king and much of the ruling class were inside. Guy Fawks was one of the main organizers and he was captured and executed the following year and commoners were encouraged to burn bonfires to celebrate the King’s surviving the assassination attempt. The nearby town of Lewes has the largest Bonfire Night celebration in the UK, in which the Gunpowder Plot is remembered along with 17 Protestant martyrs that were burned there and, more recently, service members that have been killed in action. Town residents are members of societies which are responsible for organizing a procession and fireworks display at which an effigy, typically of Fawks, is burned along with a huge bonfire. Something like 80,000 people flock to this small town (population <16,000) and it’s gotten so large that officials have urged anyone not living in the immediate area not to go. We only live 15 minutes away by train, so we went with Rosie, a lovely English girl who lives in the first house that hosted us. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the actual people in the procession, because I am too short to see over everyone’s heads. But I do have some pretty awesome pictures of the bonfire, which involved a huge pyramid of shipping pallets about 25 feet high. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. You can’t even imagine how hot it was.
Overall the experience was pretty incredible. There are six societies, each with its own procession and own bonfire and own fireworks. We only caught one procession but at the end of the night you could see fireworks going off all over the town. The processions go down the main streets of Lewes, and there are no barricades set up so they are literally walking right past you with flaming torches and exploding firecrackers. Every pub is overflowing into the street and there are just masses of people. The noise is incredible. The smoke is ridiculous. The bonfire is so hot you have to back away or risk having your eyebrows singed! Local holidays rock.