Two years ago, as a study abroad student at the University of Sussex, I had the pleasure of attending Bonfire Night in Lewes, a town in East Sussex which hosts the largest Bonfire Night festivities in the world. To learn more about the history of Bonfire Night, read our blog post about it here. The following is how I “remember remember the 5th of November,” aka, my experience celebrating the British holiday.
When the 5th of November (the date of the annual celebrations) rolled around, my friends and I decided to walk to Lewes with the University of Sussex Walking Society. Lewes is not far from the school’s campus, and walking would allow us to avoid what we knew would be an incredibly packed train. What we did not realize was that this walk would take place mostly in the dark, and mostly through muddy fields. I came prepared in my wellies (rain boots) but some of my companions were not quite as tolerant of the environment. As for the dark, the society did warn us to bring our torches, but the American in me did not immediately realize they meant flashlights. I pictured about 75 twenty-year-olds using fire to light their way as they wandered through the countryside of East Sussex. Luckily, my British friends informed me what torches really were when I asked if British people just happened to have Medieval lamps lying around.
But picturing everyone walking to Lewes carrying fire on a stick turned out to not be so far off. While us students carried normal battery-powered flashlights (or, to be more honest, our cell phones with their tiny lights), the people participating in the Bonfire Night parade did, in fact, carry traditional torches as they walked through the town. In addition to using torches, they wore elaborate costumes and walked alongside floats bearing effigies of Guy Fawkes, the man responsible for this November tradition. After the parade, the various Bonfire Societies in Lewes hosted their own fireworks shows and bonfires where they burned those imitations of Guy Fawkes.
Attending Bonfire Night in Lewes is one of my favourite memories from my time abroad because it is one of those times I felt truly immersed in British culture. There’s nothing like taking part in a new tradition unique to your study abroad location.