Lewes' most important annual event is Lewes Bonfire and Fireworks - Guy Fawkes Night celebrations on the 5th of November.
In Lewes this event not only marks the date of the uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, but also commemorates the memory of the seventeen Protestant martyrs.
Lewes Bonfire 2010 - Cliffe Effigy
The current celebrations take the form of a series of torchlit processions through the town. The event is organised by the local bonfire societies, under the auspices of the Lewes Bonfire Council. Lewes itself currently has seven bonfire societies (Nevill Juveniles is a children's society and holds its celebrations a week or two before 5th November; Southover, which disbanded in 1985, reformed in 2005) and a number of nearby towns have their own bonfire societies. The other five local bonfire societies from the town ( Cliffe, Borough, Commercial Square, South Street and Waterloo ) each proceed on their own route accompanied by a number of other societies from the neighbouring towns.
Each bonfire society has its own traditional costumes (ranging from Tudor dress to Mongol warriors). A number of large effigies are drawn though the streets. Effigies of Guy Fawkes and Pope Paul V, who became head of the Roman Catholic Church in 1605, feature every year. In addition, each of the five main local societies creates a topical "tableau" (usually, but not always, representing a human figure or figures), and the Cliffe society displays on pikes the heads (also in effigy) of its current "Enemies of Bonfire", who range from nationally reviled figures to local officials who have attempted to place restrictions on the event. Restrictions are generally ignored by the Societies.
In 2001 an effigy of Osama bin Laden ensured that the annual event received more press attention than usual (it featured on the front page of some national newspapers) as did the Firle Bonfire Society's 2003 choice of a gypsy caravan. To mark the demise of the 17 martyrs, 17 burning crosses are carried through the town, and a wreath-laying ceremony occurs at the War Memorial in the centre of town. A flaming tar barrel is also thrown into the river Ouse; this is said to symbolise the throwing of the magistrates into the river after they read the Riot Act to the bonfire boys in 1847, but may also be an echo of Samhain traditions. The festivities culminate in five separate bonfire displays, where the effigies are destroyed by firework and flame. Up to 80,000 people have been known to attend this local spectacle, coming from all over the South and sometimes further afield.