Up Helly Aa

Up Helly Aa 2016
Event details
Tuesday, January 31, 2017 - 09:00 - Wednesday, February 1, 2017 - 08:00

Long after the revel-rousing and throbbing heads have subsided in towns and cities across the country, in the far-flung Northerly isles of Shetland, locals are dressing up in Viking garb, lighting their fire torches and preparing to drag a galley through the dark streets for a dramatic ceremonial burning. The Up Helly Aa takes place on the last Tuesday of January.

It has been suggested that the Up Helly Aa is a relatively new festival, whose riotous elements were introduced by men returning from the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th Century. In subsequent years, it grew and adapted to reflect the strong cultural links between Shetland and its neighbouring Scandanavian Nations.

Until the introduction of the torchlight procession in Edinburgh, the evening torchlight procession in the main town, Lerwick, could claim to be the biggest procession of its kind in Scotland. It certainly is still one of the oldest.

Up to 1000 costumed "guizers", bearing flaming torchs, drag a Viking galley through the dark streets of the Shetland capital. They are led by a horde of vikings wearing traditional garb, winged helmets, sheepskins and carrying axes and shields.

At a designated burning point in the town, the torches are thrown into the galley, following which the 40 plus squads visit 11 local halls and perform raucous sketches to entertain their hosts.

The procession is at 7.30pm, with the entertainment continuing for some through until 8am the next day.

Lerwick's is the biggest Up Helly Aa, but there are also viking fire festivals in Scalloway, Nesting and Girlsta - taking Hogmanay or "the daft days" (as they were often referred to) well into the second month of the year.