Up Helly Aa is the biggest of the fire festivals that take place in the winter months in Shetland. This Viking themed fire festival takes place in Lerwick on the last Tuesday of January – this year Tuesday 28th January 2020. The day involves a series of marches and visitations and in the evening is the most famous part – the torch-lit procession and Galley burning.
At 18:50, the men, known as Guizers (because they are in disguise), will gather to receive their torches. On the stroke of 19:30, a rocket fired into the sky is the signal for them to light up their torches. Then the blazing procession begins, with almost a thousand men marching, led by a large squad of Vikings; the Jarl Squad. The Jarl Squad march, pulling a Viking Galley with their leader – the Guizer Jarl – standing on top. When the Galley reaches the burning site, the torchbearers form a circle round it and sing the traditional Up Helly Aa song. Another rocket is fired and the Guizer Jarl leaves the ship. A bugle call sounds, and the torches are hurled into the galley! The burning galley and the flames in the January winds are quite as sight to see!
Dates for all Shetland Fire festivals are as follows –
- Scalloway Fire Festival – Friday 10th January 2020 (second Friday of January)
- Lerwick Up Helly Aa – Tuesday 28th January 2020 (Last Tuesday of January)
- Lerwick Junior Up Helly Aa – Tuesday 28th January 2020 (Last Tuesday of January)
- Nesting & Girlsta Up Helly Aa – Friday 7th February 2020 (10 days after Lerwick festival)
- Uyeasound Up Helly Aa – Friday 14th February 2020 (Usually Second Friday of February)
- Northmavine Up Helly Aa – Friday 21st February 2020 (Third Friday of February)
- Bressay Up Helly Aa – Friday 28th February 2020 (Last Friday of February)
- Cullivoe Up Helly Aa – Friday 28th February 2020 (Last Friday of February)
- Norwick Up Helly Aa – Saturday 29th February 2020 (Last Saturday of February)
- South Mainland Up Helly Aa – Friday 13th March 2020 (Second Friday of March)
- Walls Junior Up Helly Aa – Saturday 14th March 2020 (Second Saturday of March)
- Delting Up Helly Aa – Friday 20th March 2020 (Third Friday of March)
Watch this year’s Lerwick Up Helly Aa webcast from Tuesday 28th January 2020, sponsored by NorthLink Ferries in partnership with Promote Shetland here and on the NorthLink Ferries Facebook page.