On the bitter cold and frost of a January night, with the stars sparkling overhead in a clear sky, small groups of people, muffled against the chill, process down darkened paths into orchards or to lone apple and pear trees. Some may process in silence, others with as much noise as they can muster. Some may carry torches or burning brands, others drums and shotguns or pots and pans. In each case, one of their number will be carrying a ceramic vessel filled with a steaming brew of beer or cider, carefully trying not to spill it, the steam from the bowl mingling with the cloudy breath of the participants
This is the popular image of the traditional folk custom of wassailing fruit trees – a ceremony intended to begin the process of waking the fruit trees from their winter slumber and the first fertility festival of the folk calendar.