There are thousands of existing cultural festivals that are a depiction of the old world and the new, and the Up Helly Aa fire festival is no different. 


For the Scots, burning barrels of tar mark the end of the season of Yule, known to most people as Christmas season. Although the Lerwick tradition of ‘tar barrelling’ was banned back in 1884, the tradition of burning torches and holding processions, is pretty much what Up Helly Aa is all about.

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The festival that originated in  Shetland, Scotland, takes places around mid-january with thousands of men and even young boys taking active part in the procession. This group of men, dressed like Viking warriors are called The Jarl Squad.

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The procession culminates in the torches being thrown into a replica Viking longship or galley. The event happens all over Shetland and is currently celebrated at ten locations – Scalloway, Lerwick, Nesting and Girlsta, Uyeasound,Northmavine, Bressay, Cullivoe, Norwick, the South Mainland and Delting.

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However there is a method to madness at this wonderfully chaotic festival. The procession is led by the Jarl Guizer, an elderly man chosen to represent the mob (who has been part of a committee for over 15 years.)

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As the leader of the celebration, the Guizer is expected to take on the name of an important figure or warrior from Nordic mythology and history.

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Once the march is completed and the Galley is set on fire, the Jarl Squads and their Guizer head to local spots like schools, hotels and halls to host and be part of private parties, ‘after-parties’ if you will.  To make things more fun, each squad indulges in activities like theatre, singing or dancing to entertain everyone else.

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