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Up Helly'Aa

Up Helly Aa

Jan 30

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"We fought with swords,
before Boring-holmi.
We held bloody shields:
we stained our spears.
Showers of arrows brake the shield in pieces.
The bow sent forth the glittering steel.
Volnir fell in the conflict,
than whom there was not a greater king.
Wide on the shores lay the scattered dead:
the wolves rejoiced over their prey."

~ the Krákumál (1763 English translation)

Marking the Viking end of the Yule season, the current Up Helly Aa celebration at the biggest of festivals on Lerwick, Shetland, grew out of the older yule tradition of tar barrelling, which took place at Christmas and New Year as well as Up Helly Aa. Squads of young men would drag barrels of burning tar through town on sledges, making mischief. After the abolition of tar barrelling around 1874–1880, permission was eventually obtained for torch processions. Ironically, the Lerwick Up-Helly Aa was first established by the Total Abstinence Society in the 1870s to give the young men who would otherwise drink themselves silly, something else to do.

Up Helly'Aa

Up Helly Aa can refer  to any of a variety of fire festivals held in Shetland, Scotland, annually in the middle of winter to mark the end of the Yule season.   The largest festival takes place in Lerwick on the last Tuesday in January. 


Celebrations involve a series of marches and visitations, led by the "Jarl," culminating in a torch-lit procession, at the end of which, the torches are thrown into a replica of a Viking longship or galley.


The name of this festival derives from the Old Norse words which translate to "the end of the holidays."

The current Lerwick celebration grew out of an older Yule tradition of tar barrelling.   Squads of young men would drag barrels of burning tar through town on sledges, making mischief.  After the abolition of tar barrelling (1874–1880), permission was obtained for torch processions, which first took place on Up Helly a day in 1881.  Galley burning was introduced in 1889. 


Click the Up Helly Aa circle procession for the official Up Helly Aa site. 


And for a recipe for Shetland bannocks, click here.

Up Helly'Aa

Click the dance cribs or description below to link to a printable version of the dance!

Up Helly'Aa

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