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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
Shetlander roots? Do you feel the blood of Norse warrior ancestors coursing through your veins? Need an excuse for another celebration? Well then, kilt up in this seafaring tartan, grab a torch and ready yourself for the Up Helly Aa celebration, the last of the Viking season of Yule and the biggest festival in Lerwick, Shetland! Typical festivities include marching through town costumed as the ancient inhabitants, torch lighting, and the burning of a replica Viking Longship Galley at the end of the night! Interestingly, Lerwick's fire festival dates from the 1880s and grew out of a way to redirect the boredom of young men after their return from fighting in the Napoleonic Wars! The former tradition of "tar barrelling" which took place during the Christmas and New Year season and consisted of squads of young men who would drag barrels of burning tar through town on sledges, making mischief, needed addressing . Drawing inspiration from the islands' Viking history, this custom was transformed into the Up Helly Aa festival celebrated today! Inspired by the longships invented and used by Norsemen for trade, commerce, exploration, and warfare during the Viking Age between the 9th and 13th centuries, this tartan takes as its colours: Dark brown and black from the lapstrake wooden hull; Dark red and gold representing dyes used to colour the sails, leatherwork and wooden shields; and Green and blue to represent the ocean. Head to the nearest mead hall or raise of glass of your finest! Skol and Slainte! 🔥 🔥 🔥 ⛵ 🤎
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.
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.
Shetland has a strong Scandinavian heritage and belonged to Norway until 1469, when Princess Margaret of Norway and Denmark was wed to King James 3rd of Scotland. Margaret's father didn't have enough money to pay for the wedding dowry and instead gave away Shetland (and Orkney) with the intention of buying the territories back at a later date but that never happened. Scandinavian influence is reflected in the language and over 90% of Shetland’s place names are Norse in origin!
For more about the festival, the biggest of which takes place in Lerwick on the last Tuesday in January, click the longship!