Lewes Bonfire – Lewes, England - Atlas Obscura
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Lewes, England

Lewes Bonfire

Both church and state get put to the torch in this annual festival in the "Bonfire Capital of the World." 

Each November 5th (or 4th if the 5th is a Sunday), the small town of Lewes in East Sussex sees the arrival of the Lewes Bonfire, the craziest celebration of Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot in all of England, which also throws in religious issues as well. 

Commemorating not only the failed assassination of King James the I (known famously as the Gunpowder Plot), but also the deaths of 17 martyrs from the town who died defending their faith, the Lewes Bonfire welcomes upwards of 30,000 visitors each year. And fire. Lots of fire.  

Cramming into the narrow streets of the small market town, rowdy revelers follow processions put together by the towns six major Bonfire Societies. Each Society processes in ‘ranks’ - ‘Pioneers’ dressed in signature styles, including Tudors, monks, buccaneers and Vikings - followed by ‘Smugglers’, who wear their societies’ colors on striped jumpers. Each Society makes several processions through the lanes, coming together at one point in the evening - the ‘united grand procession’ - before heading off to their own fire sites for a massive bonfire and fireworks display. Each group usually builds a colossal float (known in Lewes as a ‘tableau’, or ‘tab’) for the year, towed through the town to the fire site.  The floats usually depict some reviled personality from the year’s news in grotesque and comical caricature, usually targeting political figures. The mix of both religious and political would seem more stark is it weren’t for the open flames flickering off huge burning crosses, flaming effigies, and countless, non-stop fireworks.

The event is beloved by the town and its surrounding neighbors, many of whom flock to Lewes during the celebration. However it is also not for the faint of heart. In 2013 alone, overeager partiers led to 14 arrests and around 86 reported injuries. If you like the idea of having a firecracker explode in your face for god and country, then Lewes Bonfire might be your ideal scene.