Lewes Bonfire Night 2022 is sure to be another November 5 extravaganza. With street parades, processions, music, bangers, torches and fire, lots of fire. It’s actually quite difficult to sum up the madness of Lewes Bonfire Night in a single post. But suffice to say, this truly bonkers event is everything I love about British eccentricity.
However, if you are hoping to visit Lewes Bonfire Night, then be warned. All roads leading to the town will be closed off from around 2pm and parking is extremely limited. While it is possible to get to Lewes via train, bike or on foot, emergency services are asking people not to attend due to fears of overcrowding. From past experience the narrow streets do get very busy. So if you do attend, listen to crowd advice from the stewards and try to stick to areas where you can space out more. The fields where the bonfires are usually not as crowded.
Note that this is also a ticketed event. Tickets must be purchased in advance from one of the society websites.
Lewes Bonfire Night: What to expect
When I’m at crazy festivals around the world, like the Songkran Festival in Thailand, I often wonder what other people would make of our traditions in the UK. I grew up in a town called Scarborough, where Skipping Day seemed like a totally normal annual event. (In fact it was only when I got to university that I realised not everyone got one afternoon off school a year to go and skip on the seafront…)
However as I was standing at Lewes Bonfire Night celebrations a few years ago I really did have one of those moments where I thought to myself ‘this is absolutely mad’.
I suppose the UK is a funny old place really. I mean the reason we celebrate Bonfire Night on November 5 is in recognition of the fact that Guy Fawkes failed to blow up the House of Lords in 1605 with 36 barrels of gunpowder.
Most towns and cities have a bonfire and a firework display, but Lewes takes the celebrations to a whole other level. The town has six Bonfire Societies, some of which are more than 100 years old, whose members plan the festivities.
The evening begins with countless parades through different areas of the town, before participants meet for one giant procession. Members of each society wear different outfits to show their allegiances and carry burning torches.
As a kid I remember feeling a great sense of responsibility at even being allowed to hold a sparkler on Bonfire Night. But that small triumph paled into insignificance when I saw small children merrily marching along with giant flames.
The best way to experience Lewes Bonfire Night 2022
If you do intend to attend the Lewes Bonfire Night 2022 celebrations, a good way to do it is by staying overnight. We stayed in an Airbnb just outside the town and were easily able to walk in.
We set off early, keen not to miss a minute, and arrived to a pretty eerie scene. The usually bustling high street felt quite empty. Many of the shops even board up their windows.
We wandered through the quiet streets, wondering where we should go. But before we could make up our minds, a sea of burning crosses appeared from nowhere and a procession of people began to move in our direction.
The 17 burning crosses represent 17 martyrs who were burnt at the stake in Lewes between 1555 and 1557. They are followed by torches and then burning barrels. (The barrels are used to collect the burnt out torches which are discarded at the side of the road as the night progresses.)
Before each society makes its way to a separate bonfire site across the town, they come together for a final grand procession. During this giant effigies are paraded through the town before being burnt. These effigies are quite often political. Previous ones have included David Cameron, Donald Trump and Matt Hancock.
The Bonfire Societies
Each of the Lewes Bonfire Societies offer different things to their members. For example, some are considered to be more family-friendly etc.
We bought tickets in advance to the Cliffe Society’s Bonfire, where an unimpressed Sepp Blatter went up in flames.
On top of all of that, there were fireworks galore. It truly is an amazing evening.
The whole event feels very anti-establishment. There were so many moments when I thought, ‘how do they get away with this?’, which made it even more brilliant.
And, just like Skipping Day, Lewes Bonfire summed up everything I love about British festivals; it was quirky, historic, filled with proud participants and just a little bit mad…
If you enjoyed this post, check out this one about me getting soaked at the Songkran Festival in Thailand and to find out why we call Pancake Day Skipping Day in Scarborough, read this post.