Up Helly Aa is a yearly Viking festival that takes place in the Shetland Isles (a subarctic archipelago that lies 170 km north of mainland Scotland), on the last Tuesday of January. This epic festival, which has been an annual occurrence since the 1880s, features realistic Viking costumes, group chanting, marches, full-on ship burning, dancing, drinking, more drinking, and more dancing. This event takes place all over Shetland, but the biggest and main one occurs in Lerwick, the capital.

The groups of "Vikings" are known as Jarl Squads, which are led by a Guizer Jarl.

Up Helly Aa is such an important event to the Shetlanders that the Guizer Jarl and his squad begin their preparations in February, so that they are able to put plenty of effort into the production of their fantastic outfits.

In Lerwick, the Jarl squads spend the whole day marching through the town, and eventually they make their way to the waterfront, where they burn a large Viking ship with 1,000 torches.

Once the boat is burning nicely, they all retire to a town hall and drink and party until the sun comes up.

In fact, the day after is a public holiday in order to allow those who joined in the festivities ample time to recover.

This festival is a cherished tradition in the Shetland Isles, which were invaded and colonized by Norse Viking settlers in the 8th century, and was a Norwegian province right up until 1472.


This left its impact on the now Scottish territory, which continues to celebrate its Scandinavian history.

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