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Up Helly Aa

"Roll their glory down the ages,
Sons of warriors and sages,
When the fight for Freedom rages,
Be bold and strong as they!"

~ The Up Helly-aa Song

Up Helly Aa refers to a variety of fire festivals held annually in the Shetland Islands of Scotland, in the middle of winter to mark the end of the Yule season. The main festival in Lerwick involves a torchlight procession of up to a thousand Viking or like costumed guizers, led by the "Jarl" who march through the town, dragging a specially built replica of .Viking longship. After reaching a designated spot, a circle is formed around the ship, the Up Helly Aa song is sung, and the guizers throw their torches into the galley! The name Up Helly Aa derives from Upholiday, the lowland Scots word for Twelfth Day, and was brought by them to the Shetland Islands in the 19th century.

Up Helly Aa, a celebration marking the end of the Yule season is still celebrated in the Shetland Islands with festivities including the sacrificial torching of a longship.   Guisers playing the roles of the ancient inhabitants of the island, lead the celebrations and the torchlit processions throughout.

Longships were a type of ship invented and used by the Norsemen for trade, commerce, exploration, and warfare during the Viking Age between the 9th and 13th centuries.

This tartan, designed by Carol A.L. Martin, was inspired by the longships of old. Dark brown and black represent the lapstrake wooden hull of these boats. Dark red and gold represent dyes that were used to give colour to the sails, leatherwork and wooden shields. Green and blue represent the ocean.


For more about the festival, the biggest of which takes place in Lerwick on the last Tuesday in January, click the painting of a Viking longship in sail by Arturas Slapsys.