It’s no great surprise to learn that I am a fan of all types of events! Now here’s an event that is only (I believe) seen in the Shetlands Islands, Scotland. Up Helly Aa is probably best described as a fire festival although it is a lot more than just that. It’s quite spectacular and I’d love to go.
It takes place in various locations in Shetland and on the last Tuesday of January every year. It dates back to the late 19th Century and has Norse origins. It is a Viking style celebration where ‘Up’ means ‘end’ and Helly meaning ‘holy day or festival’ – it is a festival to mark the end of Yule season (Christmas and New Year). I must confess I like the idea that the new celebrations carry on until the end of January – although I am not sure my body could cope.
So what happens at Up Helly Aa
The Guizer Jarl. The Guizer Jarl is the principal character in the celebration of Up Helly Aa, and takes the name of a figure in Norse legend.
The Jarl Squad. The Jarl Squad is made up of the Guizer Jarl’s supporters and in Lerwick, the largest festival, means up to 1000 Guizers.
The Galley. Each year a replica of a Viking galley is built for Up Helly Aa.
The Procession. At nightfall the galley and led by the Jarl is processed through the streets of the host town by Guisers carrying flaming torches. The Guisers are organised into squads and each squad chooses a theme and dresses accordingly. The themes vary from historical to topical to satirical.
The Circle Round the Galley. When all the torchbearers arrive at the final resting spot of the galley, they form a circle round it and sing the traditional Up Helly Aa song.
Setting Fire to the Galley. After the singing of the Up Helly Aa song, the Guizers throw their torches into the galley.
The Burning Galley. Once the galley has burned and the flames die down, Guizers sing the traditional “The Norseman’s Home” song before heading out to drink and dance the night away.
While as an event manager I might be wondering of the merits of having upwards of 1000 flaming torches, a burning galley and perhaps the odd slightly inebriated Guiser walking through crowded town centre streets, I would probably take the view that its being going on for over 100 years, so somebody would by now have ironed out the ‘how to’ of having a safe Up Helly Aa – without losing the essence of what must be a truly spectacular site.
While I have no experience of running Fire festivals and may never, I do know quite a lot about the ‘how to’ of successful and safe public events and festivals, so if you need a little help and want to discuss your events ideas then check out my event management courses and consultancy services here or drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org