Up Helly Aa. Europe’s largest Viking fire festival.

For 24 hours, on the last Tuesday of January, Lerwick leads the way for annual community celebrations of Shetland’s viking heritage.

“There will be no postponement for weather”. That’s a defiant boast by Shetland’s biggest fire festival, considering it’s held in mid-winter on the same latitude as southern Greenland. But it’s true: gales, sleet and snow have never yet stopped the Up Helly Aa guizers of Lerwick from burning their Viking galley – and then dancing the dawn away.

Up Helly Aa is a lot more than a sub-arctic bonfire and booze-up. It’s a superb spectacle, a celebration of Shetland history, and a triumphant demonstration of islanders’ skills and spirit. This northern Mardi Gras, run entirely by volunteers, lasts just one day (and all the following 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. Read more on Shetland.org

Up Helly Aa is a tradition that originated in the 1880s. Since then the festival has been an annual occurrence in the Shetland calendar. Go to the official site.

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A video from 2018:

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