Up Helly Aa

Trip Start Oct 17, 2011
Trip End May 22, 2012

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Flag of United Kingdom  , Scotland,
Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lerwick's fire festival was the focal point of my time in Shetland. What a spectacle! What a day. I watched the parade in the morning; attended a concert in the afternoon; saw the procession of torches, a thousand-strong, followed by the burning of the Viking longship and fireworks; then attended a Hall at Isleburgh Community Centre. The Halls are where the community gathers to dance, eat, drink and watch the performances by all the squads (45 or so of them), all night until about 8:00 a.m. (I stayed only till midnight.) It was fun watching old and young dancing to a live band of fiddles, accordians, drums, guitars – country dancing or square dancing, like we learned in primary school. Here, they learn it in school and then keep it up their entire lives. The skits or song-and-dance routines performed by the squads, who are dressed in all manner of crazy costumes – only the Jarl’s Squad dresses as Vikings – often depict a local event from the past year or skewer a politician or other civic figure. Personal feelings are not spared.

Up Helly Aa – maybe a derivation of up-holiday – is a celebration marking the end of the Yule season. The Shetland festival has evolved since the late 1800s and is the world’s largest fire festival. If you want to know more about Up Helly Aa, you can see the various links at http://www.uphellyaa.org/about-up-helly-aa.

The big Up Helly Aa in Lerwick is always held on the last Tuesday of January, and Wednesday is a public holiday to allow for recovery. It is never cancelled due to weather. This year’s winds played havoc with the torches, but all went off according to plan. The red-and-black raven flag is flown all day from the Town Hall, and the Jarl basically has the keys to the town for the day. The Guizer Jarl (= disguised earl, chief guizer) is elected up to 15 years in advance! The Lerwick UHA still permits only men to be squad members (the women manage the halls), but the smaller, rural ones allow women as well.

Many of the photos in this entry are copied from the internet, one of the newspaper websites. The photojournalists had prime viewpoints, and their photos are amazing.

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