About Shetland Up Helly Aa
Up Helly Aa is a fiery celebration held in the Shetland Islands of northeast Scotland to mark the end of the Yule season. The largest and most popular event happens in the town of Lerwick, where over a thousand torch-bearers, called guizers, march through the town in a procession and set fire to a replica Viking longship. It is usually held on the last Tuesday in January and attracts over 5,000 spectators.
Up Helly Aa grew out of an old Christmas Eve tradition in Lerwick wherein mischievous local men would celebrate uproariously in the streets, rolling burning barrels of tar down the hills disruptively. When this practice was outlawed, it was replaced with a procession of torches in 1876 and evolved into the Up Hella Aa tradition it is today.
The guizers, or torch bearers, are made up of about local men organized into 45 squads, ranging in size from 16 to 25 guizers. Each year, the squads choose a unique theme and wear a related costume, usually something historical or topical, that takes over two years to create. Once they are assembled, it is quite a sight to behold!
The guizer squads are led in the procession by an elected leader, or Jarl. This is an honor that is awarded to men who have served on a select committee for at least 15 years. Each Jarl takes on the name of a figure in Norse legend and surrounds himself with his own squad, called the Jarl squad. Usually the most lavishly dressed, they lead the day’s proceedings.
Morning Mach and Community Visits
Throughout Up Helly Aa day, the squads of junior and senior guizers march through the town and visit several traditional locations, including the Market Cross, the Bressay Ferry Terminal, Town Hall and the Shetland Museum for various ceremonies. Considered one of the most special days of the year, the town stops down completely and everyone – men, women, children and visitors of all ages – take part in the fun.
Procession of Torches
Beginning at 7:30pm, all of the guizer squads light their torches. Led by the Jarl squad, the procession of guizers begins as they march through the streets of town following the men carrying the full-size replica of a Viking galley. All the lights in the town are turned off to allow the torches to light up the streets with an eerie red glow.
Burning of the Viking Galley
The procession ends when all of the guizers reach the King George V playing field and circle around the Viking longship. They sing the traditional Up Helly Aa song, and throw their torches into the galley, igniting it into a giant bonfire. After the galley has burned, the guizers sing another traditional song called “The Norseman’s Home.” The burning of the ship is not open to the general public, however the flames are visible for several miles around!
Parties in Local Halls
Following the burning of the galley, public halls and spaces throughout the town open for parties honoring the torch-bearers. Each guizer squad visits every party and performs a prepared skit or dance, enjoys drinks with the guests, and then moves on to the next party. These parties can last through the night and even into the next day, and when they’re over, the squads waste no time starting to plan for the next year’s event!
Shetland Up Helly Aa Youtube/Video
Shetland Up Helly Aa Dates
- Shetland Up Helly Aa 2016: Jan.26