All you need to know about the Shetland Fire Festival

If you go to the Shetland Islands between January and March and hear about Up Helly Aa, don’t worry, it is nothing but the biggest Viking fire festival you have ever witnessed in your life!
The Up Helly Aa is a fire festival that is based in Lerwick and other Shetland villages, however, if you want to see the most majestic, avoiding having to move once you arrive in the island capital, it is worth staying in the city and the show does not will miss ricurely.

The Up Helly Aa is a 24 hour party that requires a very long preparation of months and months. Thousands of people parade through the city and the same are busy for the whole previous year to prepare the costumes of the Giuzer, in particular that of Giuzer Jarl (the Viking leader).

The origins

At one time, in the period between Christmas and New Year, young people dragged barrels of tar by pulling them with sleds through the streets of the city. The state of drunkenness was also very high and this tradition created not a few problems of public disorder in Shetland. After the abolition of the tar barrels, the authorizations were obtained for the torchlight procession and the first celebration of the Up Helly Aa took place in 1881. In 1889 the first galley was burned and over the years the party grew in intensity and interest.

On the evening of the party, the groups, also known as squads, walk through the city lighting up the streets with long lines of fire. At 7.30 pm a rocket is launched over the town hall, the torches are lit and the procession can leave together with the band playing in the streets of Lerwick. The Guizer Jarl is the only one who wears traditional Viking clothing, while everyone else can have beautiful clothes or even rags of all kinds. The galley destined to burn is commanded by the Viking chief who will start the dances once he arrives at the parties.

Lerwick, Shetland Isles, Scotland, UK. 29th January 2019. Up Helly Aa viking fire festival procession which is unique to Shetland and held on the last Tuesday in January each year.
How to participate in the Fire Festival

In recent years the Lerwick Fire Festival has been live streamed. If you want to follow it, you can go to the Facebook Fan Page and watch the show wherever you are.
In case you prefer to attend the Up Helly Aa in person, know that the seats, at least in the town hall square, are quite limited and the only thing to do is to check the status of ticket sales towards the end of the year.
You can ckeck availability on Shetland Times or call the iCentre of Lerwick (+44 (0)1595 3434) and get you put on the waiting list.

Fire Festivals confirmed / canceled for 2022

The planning of the Up Helly Aa of Shetland foresees a very long period and, for this reason, even if the beginning of next year may seem far away, those who are working to create events of this kind must guarantee the safety of all: inhabitants of the island and tourists. The particular historical moment therefore forces the organizers of the Up Helly Aa to have to cancel some events, but also to be able to program others with absolute safety. Here’s where, for now, upcoming fire festivals should take place or be canceled.
If you plan to travel to Shetland between January and March 2022, check the official website not to risk missing some event!

Fire festivals expected to take place in 2022
Fire festivals still to be confirmed for 2022 (last update September 2021)
Fire Festivals postponed to 2023