Up Helly Aa by Annabel M
What is it and why should you care?
Up Helly Aa is a Scottish annual tradition where Scots dress up to honour their Shetland ancestors. It is Britain’s biggest fire festival which takes place on the last Tuesday every January in Lerwick to mark the end of the Yule season.
A torchlit procession of over 900 colourfully dressed “guisers” will make its way through the town towards a burning site, following the Jarl(chief guiser)’s squad and their longship.
The official ceremony ends when 800 flaming torches are thrown into the galley of the longship, setting it ablaze and paving the way for the festivities to begin.
Then a series of performances are done over a 24-hour period by the squads which rotate around several town halls. Each squad will perform an “act”, which could be a skit on local events, a dance or music display.
Due to covid the festival had been postponed but it is now back and with a few modifications. The squads are now allowed to choose over their guizers, as well as allowing female participation.
But why should you care? Well, as one of Britain’s largest community festivals it allows us to celebrate our collective heritage as well as giving us an exciting reminded that Spring is on the way. By lighting the fires it is said that we can draw energy from the sun and cleanse the community of the darkness from the previous months. I know this sounds quite culty, but in all honesty the message is the same, remember that good things are on the way.