Up Helly Aa

When: 28th Januar 2014

Where: in Lerwick, Shetland, United Kingdom

Up Helly Aa is the largest festival of fire in Europe it attracts visitors from across the world and marks the end of Yuletide with the world famous thousand-strong torchlight procession, and the dramatic burning of a replica Viking Longship.

Up Helly Aa is a tradition that derived in the 1880s. This is an annual festival  in the Shetland calendar. The festival didn’t take race in particular during the First and the Second War World, soon after the deaths of Queen Victoria, George V and Winston Churchill. The festival was deleted also during periods of pestilence.

Up Helly Aa is a celebration of Shetland’s history and also gives the opportunity to see the sight of the Guizer Jarl and the march of Jarl Squad  through the town. People in rural Shetland celebrate the 24th day after Christmas as “Antonsmas” or “Up Helly Night”. The Christmas and New Year festivities were born after the Napoleonic Wars. The soldiers returned from the wars with rowdy habits and a taste for firearms. The festivities began for the New Year after these wars. During the evening people used to blow horns, to beat drums and pots, to shout, to drink and to shoot with guns. Some set fire to barrels full of tar.

After 1870, thanks to a group of young people, inhabitants in the city have changed the ways to celebrate it. First of all, young people created the name Up- Helly – Aa, and moved the celebrations to the end of January. Secondly , they introduced the disguise ” guizing ” and a candlelight vigil. Finally they also also inserted Viking themes . since the First World War a team of Vikings, the ” Team of the Guizer Jarl” leads procession every year. Until the Second World War, only the younger working class yoth participated to Up- Helly – Aa, while women took part to the procession . Now everybody participates to the celebration.

Up Helly Aa day is full of things to do. In the morning there is the first sighting of the Guizer Jarl and Jarl squad when they march through the town. The Jarl Squad marches to the Lerwick Branch of the British Legion and then they stop off at the Market Cross to view the bill and sing its praises. The Guizer Jarl and his squad then march up from the terminal through Fort Charlotte and into a civic reception in the Town Hall. Following the town hall reception the Jarl squad visit the two Lerwick primary schools, the hospital and eventide homes. In between all of this they also grab some lunch. There is a brief visit by the Guizer Jarl and his squad to the Shetland Museum. The Junior Procession starts from the Hillhead. As the Junior Guizer Jarl and his squad march along their procession route to burn the ‘peerie’ galley, they are cheered on by the Guizer Jarl and his squad. In the evening a maroon signals the lighting up and the 900+ senior torches will be lit. The Jarl Squad lead the procession with the Jarl at the helm of his Galley. The procession marches along the route before finishing in the burning site at the King George V playing field. At the end of this day the guizers go to the halls and for all the night they welcome their guests, eat and dance. The halls that are open on Up Helly Aa night are events that are mostly organised by volunteers. They help in the kitchen, serve tea, coffee, soup and sandwiches and organise the hall for the squads to perform their acts.

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