Shetland Guide Book
Up Helly Aa

Up Helly Aa is held on the last Tuesday of January (Old Yule) in Lerwick, Shetland. This dramatic fire festival developed from an earlier Shetland tradition of "guizing", or dressing up. Originally straw was used, and the "skekklers" traditionally went around the local houses in the countryside at Yule. During the 1800's the young men of Lerwick started to celebrate New Year by burning tar barrels, firing guns and spreading tar on doors and windows.

The phrase Up Helly Aa was first used in Lerwick of the festivities of 1877, and the event soon grew in size. The first galley appeared in 1889 and the festival has continued to grow in size and popularity ever since.

Up Helly Aa is run by an organising committee, which is the source of the Guizer Jarls. Up to 1,000 guizers and 49 squads take part in the procession through the street, burning of the galley and doing their skits in each of 13 halls in the town. Only the Jarl's squad has a Viking theme, and the other squads may be anything from political, local scandal, pop groups, or idols, to TV shows.

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