For the uninitiated, Guy Fawkes Night is kind of like a cross between Halloween and the Fourth of July. Originally, this guy named Fawkes developed a gunpowder plot to blow up Parliament and was unsuccessful. Guy Fawkes is the closest British people get to patriotism, other than the World Cup.
All history aside, it is a good excuse for a “piss-up” and therefore a suitable cause for celebration. In the UK, bonfire societies celebrate Guy Fawkes by burning symbolic straw men in bonfires to commemorate the foiling of Guy’s little scheme. Children used to ask for money holding their straw men and saying “Penny for the Guy” before burning their effigies later on that night. Fireworks symbolize the arsenal of gunpowder on Parliament. Guy Fawkes events are held around the country but Lewes is the undisputed capital.
If you end up in Britain for Guy Fawkes, you really need to see Nov 5th in Lewes. Lewes is an upper-end sleepy little town in Sussex near Brighton that comes alive for Guy Fawkes, kind of like one of those flowers that only blooms once a year so all the people gather around to watch it. Bonfire Societies from all the country parade down the winding streets of Lewes holding burning crosses (perhaps in reference to the seventeen Protestants burned on Lewes High Street in the 1550’s), controversial signs and celebratory accessories that are oft times flammable. 80,000 people descend on this little town for the spectacle of freaks, geeks and “I’m just unique” characters striding by in the parade en-route to the bonfires.
Parading aside, Bonfire Night in Lewes is really all about the bonfires. Effigies of all types are burned, including likenesses of Bin Laden, Geri Halliwell, and Lady Thatcher to date. Sparks fly, political statements are made, and a lot of alcohol is consumed. It is a quintessentially British holiday.
Lewes Bonfire Night Do’s and Don’ts
Don’t wear clothing to Bonfire Night you mind getting ruined. A singe from Bin Laden’s burning beard might ruin your TOPSHOP jumper.
Do plan your exit. Buses run until midnight but your best bet is to stay in Brighton and sort out your travel plans well in advance. Do not drive.
Do leave your ability to be offended at home. Even if you are Catholic (many demonstrations are Anti-Catholic historically), of a particular political persuasion or a fierce straw advocate.