Remember, remember, the one night a year where Lewes goes up in flames!

Bonfire procession in LewesNovember the 5th is the day of the year where Britain will celebrate the flawed act of 17th Century terrorism by doing what Mr Fawkes couldn’t: making things explode. Granted, fireworks aren’t exactly the Houses of Parliament, but they’re a colourful and loud metaphor nonetheless. However, out of every celebration in the country (of which there are a few!) the pageantry and tradition of the East Sussex County Town stands head, shoulders, and quite possibly torso above the rest: The world famous Lewes Bonfire. Seven societies (the two earliest being founded in the 1850s) have been competing for over 150 years to put on the best show in the town; each representing a different area of Lewes.

Lewes is unlike any other town in terms of Bonfire Celebrations because it is a complete year-round occupation. When one celebration on the 5th ends, the planning for the next year starts almost immediately. Competition among the societies is such that each have claimed a pub as their headquarters, yet they probably all drink the same pints of Harvey’s when they meet…

The celebrations in Lewes aren’t just kept solely for those based in the town. Other societies from the surrounding towns and villages also get involved, adding to the feeling of inclusion for everyone. As someone that spends every day in the town, I can vouch for the fact that Lewes changes immeasurably for one night of the year. The first sign of the day is the firing of the cannon at 6am sharp. Then everything changes. The ‘Smugglers’ (society members) are all out in the town in the day to try and raise their funds for next year to run, each in their own coloured jumpers. Signs advertising each society adorn the high street and all the safety features are installed for the sudden influx of Non-Lewesians that line the streets four-five deep when the main procession starts.

The procession itself is always something to behold. An orange glow is seen from a long distance from hundreds upon hundreds of torches being carried by those marching, and eccentric period costumes are worn by others. The effigies themselves are kept top secret by the societies until the night itself. Each effort has to outdo that of the year before and that of each society. I happened to catch a glimpse of a society’s effigy (which shall remain nameless!) being moved from its warehouse, and I can conclude that there is definitely a theme befitting this year in Britain, read into that what you will…

Explosives go off left, right and centre; the visiting population is in the tens of thousands; and there are a copious amount of fireworks at the end of the night after each society retreats to their individual ‘headquarters’. Not bad to top it all off, is it? On that note, I’m off to see what all the fuss is about.


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