28th January - Up Helly Aa - lightening of the year

Written by Anne Newman 7th January 2020

Up Helly Aa is a celebration in Shetland and a triumphant demonstration of islanders' skills and spirit. It lasts just one day and night but it takes several thousand people 364 days to organise. Much of the preparation is in strictest secrecy. The biggest secret of all is what the head of the festival, the 'Guizer Jarl', will wear and which character from the Norse Sagas he'll represent.

On the evening of Up Helly Aa Day, almost 1,000 heavily disguised men, in groups called ‘squads’, form ranks in the darkened streets of Shetland’s capital, Lerwick. Only the lead, or Jarl Squad, wear viking dress. The rest are in fancy dress costumes ranging from the almost sublime to the totally ridiculous.

The ingredients of the Up Helly Aa recipe go back 12 centuries and more - fire, feasting, fancy dress and, above all, fun. The torch lit procession and galley burning echo pagan Norse rituals at the cremation of great chieftains, and religious ceremonies to mark the Sun's return after the winter solstice.

More information and videos can be found at 'up-helly-aa' at


Anne is sharing a series of events throughout the year - you can find them listed by clicking to the link Other Notable Dates and Festivals.