This annual festival is celebrated on the last Tuesday in January. Festivities take place in Lerwick in the Shetland Islands where this small town with a population of around 7,500 (2010) attracts tourists from all over the globe for singing, dancing and drinking. The main attraction is Procession where men, known as the Jarl Squad, take to the streets dressed as Vikings and set fire to a Galley.
The first torchlight procession took place in 1881, but the festival can be traced back to older roots, the first documented account being from a visiting Missionary in 1824:
“the whole town was in an uproar: from twelve o clock last night until late this night blowing of horns, beating of drums, tinkling of old tin kettles, firing of guns, shouting, bawling, fiddling, fifeing, drinking, fighting. This was the state of the town all the night – the street was as thronged with people as any fair I ever saw in England.”
The celebrations later evolved to tar barreling, where mischievous young men would drag barrels of burning tar through town. The festival was eventually pushed back to the end of January and tar barreling was replaced with a (safer) torchlight procession and a Viking theme.
Today the festival commences at 9am with the Jarl Squad marching through town to the British Legion, ferry docks, museum and other locations. The Galley is brought to ferry terminal where it is prepared for the evening celebrations.
Tickets can be purchased for the various Halls throughout Lerwick where festivities during the day occur.
For more information on Up Helly Aa, check out the Official Website
When: Tuesday, January 29th, 2013
Where: Lerwick, Shetland Islands, United Kingdom
- Hogmanay (ayearandadaywicca.wordpress.com)