Held annually in Lerwick, Shetland is Up Helly Aa Fire Festival, also renowned as Europe’s largest fire festival. A tradition that originated in the 1880s, since then, Up Helly Aa Fire Festival has been an annual occurrence in the Shetland calendar. The celebrations, which are usually held on the last Tuesday in January continue through the night.
A relatively modern festival, Up Helly Aa Fire Festival marks the end of yule. A celebration of Shetland history, it grew out of tar barreling which took place at Christmas and New Year. As noted by a visiting Methodist in the 80s, people in rural Shetland celebrated the 24th day after Christmas as “Antonsmas” or “Up Helly Night”, which was characterised by firing of guns, shouting, bawling, drinking and fighting.
However, this culture of brawls and fights was transformed by the late eighties and replaced by a triumphant demonstration of the islanders’ spirit and a superb spectacle of performances. In 1870, the idea of a torchlight procession was floated. In 1906, a “Guizer Jarl”, the chief guizer, arrived on the scene. After the First World War, the Viking themes were incorporated into the procession every year.
Today, Up Helly Aa Fire Festival involves a series of marches, finally culminating in a torch-lit procession. This is followed by hours of performing acts and dancing in halls throughout Lerwick. Festivities are planned a year in advance and secrecy about the preparations is strictly maintained. Local participants called guizers celebrate their Norse heritage, dressed in Viking gear. They march through town with battle axes, dragging a ceremonial Viking longboat. The head of the festival, the ‘Guizer Jarl’, leads his men. After the long boat is set to fire in the city centre, guizers sing the traditional song “The Norseman’s Home” before a night of partying. The day next to the Up Helly Aa Fire Festival is usually a public holiday.
Lerwick is the capital and main port of the Shetland Islands, Scotland. In order to reach Lerwick, the first step is to access either Glasgow, Aberdeen or Edinburgh, which are among the nearest airport. After landing here, visitors can opt for flights connecting to Sumburgh, which is the nearest airport from Lerwick, 25 miles south of it.
Thanks to the influence of the sea, Lerwick doesn’t witness an extreme climate. The temperature ranges from cool to cold all year long. Rainfall is low in this region. January is a chilly month. So it is advised that when visiting Lerwick for the Up Helly Aa Fire Festival, tourists should pack in a lot of warm clothes to keep them going.
Up Helly Aa Fire Festival is certainly not for the faint hearted. For those planning a holiday with a dash of adventure and spectacle, Up Helly Aa Fire Festival at Lerwick in Shetlands Islands, Scotland is the place for you. This is the perfect time to make all your bookings and reservations. What are you waiting for? Start booking, NOW!