At the customs I've visited recently, I've been quiet, watching how the crowds interact, how they greet their friends and family and make sense of the action unfolding in front of them.
But at my third Imbolc Fire Festival in Marsden at the weekend, it was my turn to act as though nobody was watching. The festival, held every two years, has become part of my routine since I moved to this part of the world. My husband and I now make sure we meet up with our Marsden-based friends, Tim and Sam, each Imbolc, and this time, we were also joined by a friend I haven't seen for years. Accompanied by her nine year old son, it was my friend's first visit to Marsden and the festival.
Our little group talked loudly, swapping stories and catching up, narrating what would happen over the course of the evening for my friend's benefit. We drank wine quickly, the result of queuing for far longer than we anticipated and racing to catch the start of the procession. We booed Jack Frost as he started his campaign; we cheered when the Green Man sashayed across the embankment, quite calm and self-assured. We made terrible puns and Chris and Tim pretended they were television sports pundits as the puppets went in to battle – something I'm pretty sure we did two years ago, and probably the two years prior to that.
The crowd, ourselves included, began to figure out the shapes burning in front of us and a wave of realisation overwhelmed the audience.
'Oh look, that's a snowflake and it's being burnt first to show winter is over. And here's the sun to represent spring.'
Though there's plenty of stewards in high vis, rattling buckets, I like the fact that there are moments of peace and pause during the 'show', with the audience often wondering aloud what's happening, questions passing between children and adults, or adults and other adults.
'What's he doing, mummy?' 'He looks like he's going in for a punch!'
'It's been mild this winter, I don't know what Frost's playing at'