Current Events, Special Days and Historic Anniversaries Brought to Life by Teddy Bears, Pandas and Other Cuddly Creatures


by Elspeth

Today is 5th November when communities and organisations all over the country burn effigies of Guy Fawkes accompanied by spectacular fireworks displays to remember the Gunpowder Plot – the failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament. 

Bonfires date back to long before the days of the plot’s ringleader, Guy Fawkes, and traditionally were lit on the full moon nearest to 1st November to appease the god Samhain – the lord of death and evil spirits.  Over the years, they’ve been used for a variety of reasons.  For example, bonfires were used for executing witches right up to the 18th century as it was thought that burning them was the only way to cleanse their souls.  They were also used as beacons for signalling in times of danger – in fact, it was probably bonfires that helped to defeat the Spanish Armada.  It was from these archaic uses that the skill and art of building bonfires came about and it is, therefore, not surprising that bonfires became associated with celebrating the failure of the Gunpowder Plot as burning effigies of Guy Fawkes, (and sometimes the Pope) showed how evil the populace thought the ‘Popish Plot’ was against their King.

Nowhere in the country is Bonfire Night celebrated in more spectacular fashion than in Lewes in East Sussex which stages a dramatic night of parades, bands, bonfires and pyrotechnics.  In the years immediately following the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot on 5th November 1605, the people of Lewes marked the date with a service of thanksgiving.  However, it wasn’t long before more elaborate celebrations evolved with people known as the Bonfire Boys throwing fireballs and squibs and dragging blazing tar barrels through the streets, often with disastrous results.  Realising that, if the celebrations were to continue, they would have to be less riotous and so the Bonfire Boys organised themselves into two Bonfire Societies, which instigated regimented, torch-lit costumed processions to which were gradually introduced bands, banners, barrels, burning effigies, fireworks and tableaux.  Over the years, the stunning street fire festival has remained largely unchanged and is the highlight of the year for Lewesians. 

The festivities in Lewes are, however, not just about celebrating the failure of the Gunpowder Plot – there is also an underlying strand of remembrance.  In particular, are remembered the 17 Protestant Martyrs who met horrific, fiery, deaths during the Marian Persecutions of the 16th century, and the Bonfire Boys who didn’t return from the conflicts of two World Wars.  Thus, the fifth of November gives a voice to all those who believe that only by remembering religious upheaval, persecution and war will we stand a chance of ensuring that such atrocities never happen again.  

Two years ago, the Bonfire Night window was a very last minute decision for The Bears in the Windows but they had such a good time that 5th November has now been added to their extremely busy diary.  As you can see, one bear is asking passers-by for a ‘Penny for the Guy’, another is on hand to light the ‘bonfire’ built from twigs from a local park, while a third is an ursine Roman candle!  Understandably, the poor unfortunate bear who has drawn the short straw to play the Guy looks full of trepidation as he sits on top of the ‘bonfire’, but you’ll be relieved to know that no bears were harmed in the making of this window.  In fact, it’s more than likely that the figure of hate will soon be making another appearance in a completely different guise when the bears celebrate American Thanksgiving later in the month! 



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