Asserting that Guy Fawkes Night is Britain’s Burning Man may seem controversial, but look at the evidence – giant art projects, bacchanalia, political commentary, and massive structures being set on fire. We rest our case.
Of course, unlike Burning Man, Guy Fawkes Night–which is observed every November 5th– has 410 years of historical tradition behind it. In 1605, the eponymous Guy was arrested for his complicity in the Gunpowder Plot, an assassination attempt against King James I that would have involved blowing up the House of Lords. With his arrest, the plot was foiled, the king was saved, and the country broke out in celebratory bonfires. This celebration soon became an official annual holiday, on which hated figures were traditionally burned in effigy.
The effigies weren’t originally of Guy Fawkes–they were figures like the Whore of Babylon, and on one occasion in 1677, a Pope filled with live cats. During the 18th century it became tradition to burn a figure of Fawkes himself, and while other notorious celebrities still join him on the pyre, they’re usually referred to as “Guys.” (For a long time, children would also build their own Guys and take the effigies around town begging for pennies, though this isn’t popular anymore, perhaps because pennies are worthless.)
The Lewes bonfire, at Lewes in East Sussex, is the biggest in the country, and this year there are two celebrity Guys: a nude David Cameron holding a pig’s head (a reference to this unsettling story), and former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is mired in a different sort of controversy.
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson will also be burned at Lewes, along with a 50-foot Guy Fawkes.
Blatter’s shady financial ethics have made him so popular that he’s doubling up this year; he’s also making an appearance at the Edenbridge bonfire in Kent, whose past Guys have included Lance Armstrong. Hopefully he really, really likes the heat.
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