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‘Tis the season…


I’m sure you’ve heard of Guy Fawkes Night in the UK, which is celebrated on November 5 with fireworks and the burning of Fawkes in effigy (or, more traditionally, the Pope in effigy, since the conspirators were Catholic). It commemorates the foiling of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

Which doesn’t look like such a very bad idea these days.

But I digress.

The holiday is a bit different in Sussex. There is a GIGANTIC November 5 celebration in Lewes, a kind of Mardi Gras with more fire, less nudity. Most of the major towns in the county (and parts of Kent) have bonfire societies which come to march through the town for the big one.

In return, each of the towns and villages has its own Bonfire Night and everyone comes to march in their celebrations, too. So they have to stagger them. Between late September and November 5, there’s a bonfire somewhere in the county pretty much every weekend.

And very pagan-y affairs they are, too. There are elaborate and spooky costumes, and torches and fireworks, and they pull the guy (the various guys, which are effigies of people in the news. I believe Dubya got immolated a time or two) through the town. At the end, there’s a HUGE bonfire (usually made of hundreds of wood pallets) and they blow up the Guy and several kzillions of pounds (in weight and/or money) of fireworks.

The first big one is tomorrow night, in Hastings. I don’t think we’ll go this year, but we’ve gone before. It’s most impressive. Last year, they saw it in France and sent out the lifeboats.

Oh, and the tiny village of Icklesham insists on defying local custom and having theirs on November 5 each year, so none of the other villages will show up or advertise for them. Go Icklesham!


Comment from Scubafreak
Time: October 16, 2009, 8:45 pm

bummer on the nudity……..

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 16, 2009, 8:53 pm

Dude, it’s cold. And there’s open flame.

Have you ever fried bacon in the nude? If so, slap yourself.

Comment from Dave in Texas
Time: October 16, 2009, 9:28 pm

So, England has Aggies?

Had no idear.

(actually, I had never heard of Guy Fawkes night. I heard of Guy Fawkes, I ain’t all that dumb.. ok kinda)

Comment from Richard
Time: October 16, 2009, 9:30 pm

That area of the country suffered a large proportion of the stake-burning of ‘heretic’ Protestants under Catholic rule. That is why they have such a strong tradition of giving the Pope’s effigy a taste of what they expected him to endure for his eternal damnation.

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: October 16, 2009, 9:58 pm

Why Stoatie, yes I have. It’s GREAT for dry skin…. 😉

I keep trying to get my friends to do a Guy Fawkes party each year, but it never comes off…..

Comment from Waterhouse
Time: October 16, 2009, 11:33 pm

Somewhere Al Gore is availing himself of the nearest fainting couch.

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: October 17, 2009, 12:19 am

Stoatie, see if you can open this. japanese cat weightlifting game. They bet on how much cats can lift or something, using bigger and bigger fish…


Comment from Mrs Compton
Time: October 17, 2009, 1:09 am

Wait, I’m confused… if it’s pagan-y isn’t nudity required?

Comment from dfbaskwill
Time: October 17, 2009, 9:54 am

Looks like a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail! (It’s their 40th Anniversary by the way.)

Comment from Allen
Time: October 17, 2009, 2:16 pm

“A penny for the Guy.” I remember those days, pushing around an effigy of Guy in a wheelchair.

Burn him up later, why yes we did. That’s the thing about the Brits, they can be both savage and urbane simultaneously. It really is a marvelous trait.

I think we need some flaming effigies here. Howzabout:

“Penny for the Pelosi.”
“Fifty for the Frank.”
“Dollar for the Dodd.”

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: October 17, 2009, 9:21 pm

Yes, but do they burn any meddlesome outsiders in a wicker man?

Comment from David Gillies
Time: October 18, 2009, 1:13 am

Oop North round Bonfire Night it was a trial and a tribulation. The local feral kids would be setting off bangers for a month beforehand. It was like living in bloody Sarajevo. I’d’ve scragged the little bastards if I could’ve caught ’em.

And if anyone wonders why there’s a tinge of nostalgia for Guido F., I give you the resplendently repellent Barry Sheerman MP, member for Huddersfield, who, fatuously, linked November the 5th to global warming. Never mind an effigy; old Bazza himself atop a pyre would be a damn good start in ridding the land of hectoring holier-than-thou prodnoses.

Comment from MCPO Airdale
Time: October 18, 2009, 12:56 pm

Not one town will burn teh Obambi or Osama Bin Laden – that would be RAAAAAAACIST!!

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 18, 2009, 2:51 pm

Hm. I was hoping to find a list of some of the effigies local societies have burned in recent years (it’s a often closely guarded secret until the night), but this is a pretty interesting rundown of the local lads and their traditional costumes. I don’t know which group it is, and it’s not listed here, but one society dresses up in quite sinister fox costumes. I don’t know why that’s creepy, but it is.

D’you know, I think they might have burned Osama somewhere around here. They are pretty fiercely politicaly incorrect out here.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 18, 2009, 3:15 pm

Wow! It’s only eight, but the Hastings Observer has a gallery of photos of tonight’s bonfire up already. Check it out — it’ll give you some idea.

Looks like the effigy was the Greedy Pig Virus — if I read it right, that’s: NHS Parking, Bankers and Politicians.

That first one is because the hospital in Hastings has recently instituted stiff parking fees (I don’t know how widespread that is, but I know it’s true at Hastings). It’s causing a lot of hard feelings because…well, hey, you’re some old coot who has to visit his wife in hospital every day, the last thing you need is ANOTHER damn expense.

I have to say, my experience of the NHS is that it isn’t so much horrible in big dramatic ways (despite what you read in the Daily Mail). It’s horrible in small, mean ways.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 18, 2009, 3:23 pm

Hm. Torchlit processions look ALL wrong with flash photography.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: October 18, 2009, 7:51 pm

Yes, the flash ruins it. In reality it’s a really quite pagan/sinister experience (and all the better for it, of course – because that is what it’s supposed to be). Flash robs the pictures of any atmosphere.

The robed fox mask people are, surprisingly, not local. They’re from Yorkshire and what they do is deliciously weird – a set of ritualistic fire dances to a drumbeat, punctuated by bright flashes as one of them tosses an incendiary powder onto one of the flaming torches.

There! Quite ruined the bowler hat, double decker bus, jolly Cockney ‘cor luvva duck’ image? Good! Allen (above) has it perceptively nailed with his ‘savage and urbane’ comment.

Beneath the deceptively bland surface here there are often unspoken things going on. We don’t recognise it ourselves, half the time.

Anyway, Guy Fawkes Night is great fun and I heartily commend it. Far be it for me, a mere furriner, to recommend a suitable substitute for ritual burning in place of our own, dear, Guido Fawkes…

(exits stage LEFT, whistling innocently)

Pingback from S. Weasel
Time: November 5, 2009, 7:32 pm

[…] mentioned a while back that Sussex makes a Very Big Deal out of Bonfire Night, holding parades and fireworks and bonfires […]

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