English tradition of Guy Fawkes Day imported to Berkshires

Tuesday November 6, 2012

Richard Tovell wasn’t alive on Nov. 5, 1605, the day Guy Fawkes was foiled from blowing up Parliament in England with dozens of gunpowder barrels.

But this year, Tovell, now living in Housatonic, held a celebration to "remember, remember the Fifth of November."

Some English natives who now live in the Berkshires still acknowledge the day, often known as Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire Night, that almost disrupted England’s structured government. For others, it brings back nostalgic memories of English childhood.

"It’s really just an excuse to have a party," Tovell said, recalling the celebrations that he experienced in London throughout his life. "Fireworks are the big draw because, there, you can buy fireworks at age 16."

Tovell has lived in the Berkshires with his American wife, Abby Tovell, for almost three years. On Saturday, they hosted their second Guy Fawkes Day celebration, filled with grilled sausages, sparklers and the requisite bonfire for Bonfire Night. About 60 people, mostly American but some local Brits, attended their celebration.

"It was like a last hoorah to play outside," Abby Tovall said. "It wasn’t that there was a need to bring the culture here, but a fun excuse to have a party."

A heightened acknowledgment for Guy Fawkes Day in America could be attributed to the hit 2006 American film "V for Vendetta," a futuristic action thriller starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving. Weaving plays a vigilante named V that wears a Guy Fawkes mask. The film ends with V successfully blowing up Parliament.

"America is interested in our culture, and we’re interested in your culture," said Richard Proctor, a London native who’s lived in Great Barrington with his wife, Clare Proctor, for about 18 months.

Almost every year during his childhood, sometimes weeks before Nov. 5, Proctor and a group of friends would use a small trolley or wagon to wheel a dummy made of crumpled newspapers and sometimes old clothes. During the ritual, called Penny for the Guy, adults would throw loose change into the trolley. The youngsters then used to money to buy fireworks to set off on Nov. 5.

"It doesn’t happen much anymore because it’s too close to begging," Proctor said. "As an adult, I keep stopping to think why there’s a celebration for a potential killer."

The Proctors were at Brits ‘R’ Us, at 80 North St. in Pittsfield, trying to find an English cooking fat called suet. The owner and operator of the store, Alan Greaves, had a few bags of bonfire toffee available Monday. The treats are usually enjoyed alongside the baked potatoes and sausages served at Bonfire Night celebrations in England.

"I’m hoping to eventually have a celebration here at the store," Greaves, also an Englishman, said.


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