Up Helly Aa Fire Festival


When- 30th January 2018

Where- Shetland Islands of Scotland

About- Up Helly Aa refers to any of a variety of fire festivals held annually in the Shetland Islands of Scotland, in the middle of winter to mark the end of the yule season. The festival involves a procession of up to a thousand guizers in Lerwick and considerably lower numbers in the more rural festivals, formed into squads who march through the town or village in a variety of themed costumes.

Up Helly Aa is a lot more than a sub-arctic bonfire and booze-up. It’s a superb spectacle, a celebration of Shetland history, and a triumphant demonstration of islanders’ skills and spirit.

According to John Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1818), up is used in the sense of something being at an end while helly refers to a holy day or festival and aa may represent a’, meaning “all”.

1 – The Guizer Jarl. The Guizer Jarl is the principal character in the celebration of Up Helly Aa, which takes place on the last Tuesday in January. Each Guizer Jarl takes the name of a figure in Norse legend. This one was Flokki of the Ravens.

2 – The Jarl Squad. The Jarl Squad is made up of the Guizer Jarl’s supporters. It is the principal of many squads, and the participants are called guizers.

3 – The Galley. Each year a replica of a Viking longship is built for Up Helly Aa.

4 – The Procession. After nightfall the longship is dragged through the streets of the town in a torchlight procession. The torchbearers are the members of all the squads, led by the Jarl Squad. Each squad chooses a theme and dresses accordingly. The themes are very varied, some historical, some topical or satirical.

5 – The Circle Round the Galley. When all the torchbearers arrive at the final resting spot of the longship, they form a circle round it and sing the traditional Up Helly Aa song.

6 – Setting Fire to the Galley. After the singing of the Up Helly Aa song, the guizers throw their torches into the longship.

7 – The Burning Galley. Once the longship has burned and the flames die down, guizers sing the traditional song “The Norseman’s Home” before going on to a night of partying. Any available large room is pressed into service as a hall, presided over by a hostess who issues invitations to attend, and every guizer squad visits every hall in turn to dance and drink with the guests. As there can be dozens of squads and dozens of halls, this takes most of the night and well into the following morning. The day after is the “Hop Night” where further dances and celebrations are held.

History- The current Lerwick celebration grew out of the older yule tradition of tar barrelling which took place at Christmas and New Year as well as Up Helly Aa. Squads of young men would drag barrels of burning tar through town on sledges, making mischief. After the abolition of tar barrelling around 1874–1880, permission was eventually obtained for torch processions. The first yule torch procession took place in 1876. The first torch celebration on Up Helly Aa day took place in 1881. The following year the torchlit procession was significantly enhanced and institutionalised through a request by a Lerwick civic body to hold another Up Helly Aa torch procession for the visit of Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. The first galley was introduced and burned in 1889. The honorary role of the ‘Jarl’ was introduced to the festival in the early twentieth century.


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