Thursday, November 10, 2011

Guy Fawkes night in Lewes, England

"If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it." - Herodotus

On November 5th I had the good fortune to be staying with my friend Beka in Lewes, an hour south of London and close to more well-known Brighton. Lewes is Ground Zero for what has to be the most chaotic, loud, and dangerous public celebration on this normally reserved and "proper" isle. Guy Fawkes was caught in the "Gunpowder Plot" of 1605 trying to assassinate King James I. If that wasn't bad enough, the plotters were Catholic! That just won't do. Mr. Fawkes was hung, then drawn and quartered, meaning chopped into (at least) four pieces. Ewwww. The annual celebration of the failure of the plot was originally primarily anti-Catholic, and often violent, as described in this Wikipedia article. In recent times it's just a wild celebration.

What you don't see in these photos is how loud it is, primarily from a continuous barrage of powerful firecrackers - what we used to call cherry bombs or M80's. They're dropped in the street, roll around at your feet, and vibrate your body if they go off near you. There are no physical barriers between onlookers and participants, so the heat from torches brushed past my head the whole evening, and my ears were ringing from the explosives. Yeah, baby.

Love to you all,

I haven't seen so many torches since a Frankenstein movie.
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Periodically celebrants carried some kind of red flare that was way too bright to look into. It turned the night red.
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The famous  17 crosses, commemorating the 17 Protestant martyrs who were burned at the stake on this very street between 1555 and 1557.
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Costumes are elaborate. I don't know how the themes are chose by the groups.
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There are lots of children taking part.
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This man looks like the Johnson side of my family.
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Another view of the 17 crosses.
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Here's one you won't see in the U.S.: white people with black-as-night makeup, dressed as Africans.
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These metal skids are pulled around through the night to burn the used torches. New torches are handed out regularly, and the old ones are dropped on the street before they're picked up and burned by these guys.
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Guy Fawkes himself. As he wheels by, some people in the crowd yell, "Burn him! BURN HIM!!" Good clean fun, I guess.
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An effigy I fully support the burning of: Rupert Murdoch being strangled by Rebekah Brookes, former head of News of the World.
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The procession leaves the downtown area and heads to the bonfire a mile or so away.
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AT the end of the evening, there are substantial fireworks displays from each of the bonfire societies, situated around the outskirts of town.
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This bonfire was just behind the house where Beka lives.
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The fire was so hot it was difficult to get within 50 yards of it.
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The bonfire is nearby as fireworks are going off at a distant bonfire.
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(The End)