I have a new favorite holiday and it is Bonfire Night. Or, for those Stateside, Guy Fawkes Day. Forget Christmas with it’s dinky little tree that sheds pine needles all over the floor. Forget Easter with it’s bunny that doesn’t make any sense. Forget Labor Day and Earth Day and even Halloween. Bonfire Night is where it’s at.
The town of Lewes in East Sussex has one of the largest Bonfire Night celebrations in all of England. Approximately 60,000 people show up each year. And this time around, I was one of them. There are multiple bonfires all over the city. The pyre I ended up crowding around was easily 30 feet tall. There are parades throughout the picturesque streets. There is fire everywhere. You’ll think I’m exaggerating, but I can assure you that I’m not. I stood on a lit torch. I picked a still-lit torch up off the street. One of my companion’s hair and scarf caught on fire. This is no joke.
And it’s not just fire. Oh, no. Tons and tons of fireworks. Not just the pretty kind that light up the sky for you to “ooh” and “ahh” at either. The explosive kind that leave your ears ringing and make you think you’re about to go deaf. These were a particular favorite of the young men marching in the parades. They’d pull a firecracker from their pocket, light it on their torch, and drop that sucker. You’d think gunshots were going off. Some of the delinquents were kind enough to put their foot over the top of the thing so it would detonate as a kind of controlled explosion, if you will. Others didn’t. As a result, a lot of people’s pant legs got singed.
But my dad taught me to not shy away from a photographic opportunity. So while everyone else was cowering from the flames and the noise, I took jumped into action, getting as close to the parade as possible to take pictures. I’m not sure what, exactly, contributed to my immunity to the firecrackers (I blame it on the four years of high school in which I sat directly in front of the drumline), but I got some good pictures out of the deal while my friends were taking cover. Shell-shocked, I was not.