Posted on January 28, 2014
It's a Viking festival!
Up Helly Aa, reputed to be the largest fire festival in Europe, is held every year in Shetland, in Scotland. Like so many other customs having to do with fire and light, it is a connected to winter's short days and long nights, but Up Helly Aa is a celebration of the end of this dark yule season. Young men used to drag barrels of burning tar through the town (and, boy, does that sound fun!), and when “tar barreling” was outlawed, people held torch processions.
Nowadays people work all year designing and creating fabulous outfits, deciding on characters they will play, and rehearsing acts to perform. On the actual day, a large sign called “the Bill” is erected in the town square. It has the news about what is going to be happening—along with a lot of jokes and satire. The Guizer Jarl and his Jarl Squad march through town, followed by a galley, which is a long, low boat. Every once in a while the guizers visit a hospital, school, or museum.
At night the famous torchlit procession consists of almost 1,000 guizers carrying torches, following the galley. Many more thousands line the route and cheer at the guizers. The thrill at the end of the route is that the galley is sent to “Valhalla” (in Norse mythology, Valhalla is the hall in which souls of soldiers who were killed in battle were received by the god Odin). And just how do you send a boat to a mythological place? You burn it, of course!
After that, the guizers go to twelve halls in turn, and in each one they perform their acts and dance routines. There is tea and coffee, soup and sandwiches available, plus of course plenty of deserts. Dancing and laughter and merriment continue all night until 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning (which is a holiday so people can get some sleep!).
There is even a Junior Up Helly Aa – with squads wearing costumes, a torchlit procession, and a galley to burn – for kids!
Find out more here.
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