Learn everything there is to know about the annual Up Helly Aa fire festival that takes place in Lerwick, Shetland. A variety of enjoyable tools created by teachers are also available.
What is Up Helly Aa?
On the final Tuesday of January, Up Helly Aa, a magnificent fire festival, is held in Lerwick, Shetland. Up Helly Aa requires a lot of community volunteers who give their time throughout the year. The majority of the planning is top-secret!
There are 12 minor Up Helly Aa celebrations that take place around Shetland during the winter in addition to the major event, which is hosted in Lerwick.
Despite having a Viking concept, the event has only been around for a little over a century. However, some of the festival’s customs go back hundreds of years to the time the Vikings controlled the North. The torch-lit procession and the incinerating of the Viking long ship or galley serve as evocative recollections of ancient Norse festivities held to celebrate the Sun’s return after the middle of winter as well as to mark the passing of a great chief.
What was the origin of Up Helly Aa?
A group of young men by the name of Up Helly Aa brought guizing (or dressing up) to the New Year’s celebrations in 1870. People were seen lugging flaming tar barrels through the streets of Lerwick in earlier centuries.
They also started the march with torches lighted up. A Viking galley didn’t show up as part of the celebration until the late 1880s, and it took longer still before Guizer Jarl, the head guizer, and his Viking squad, the Jarl’s Squad, joined the parade.
Guizer Jarl and the Jarl Squad
In 1882, Up Helly Aa members elected Worthy Chief Guizer as their first chief. This played and continues to play a crucial part in the event. In 1906, it was agreed that the Chief Guizer should go by the name Guizer Jarl and that he should dress in Viking-style armour. Each year, the new Jarl receives the Viking set of armour, which consists of a helmet, breastplate, shield, axe, dagger, and belt. The outfits his squad will wear are then designed by him, including his kirtle (or tunic), cloak, and other accessories. Every year, these outfits are unique, and months are spent on their creation. Axes, swords, spears, and daggers, as well as shields, are created to fit the attire.
In Up Helly Aa, there are about 40 teams. Squads can have up to 25 members, however the Jarl Squad can have up to 70 members. Women don’t participate in Up Helly Aa. Women participate in eight more fire celebrations that take place in and around Shetland in the late winter as torch-bearers and guizers.
What preparations are made for Up Helly Aa?
There are 17 volunteers on the Up Helly Aa Committee. The Marshall, Guizer Jarl, and 15 other members of the Committee are in charge of planning the event. There has to be a lot of planning done to make everything function well. The Marshall is in control on the day of Up Helly Aa, and it is his duty to see that everything runs smoothly for Guizer Jarl.
At Up Helly Aa, more than 1000 torches are required annually. To create the torches, a group of volunteers gathers twice a week over the winter. The torches are constructed out of concrete-topped fence posts and sack or hessian fabric. The torches are doused in paraffin the day before Up Helly Aa so they can burn efficiently.
What takes place on Up Helly Aa Day?
Guizer Jarl and his Jarl squad march through Lerwick on the morning of Up Helly Aa. This is the first opportunity for folks to see the stunning outfits that the Jarl Squad has created. After that, the Jarl Squad makes a halt at the Market Cross to look at the Bill that has been put there.
The Market Cross was where directions and information about the event were customarily posted for public viewing, thus the Bill’s origin. The Bill has evolved over time from being a simple set of rules to include gags about locals and events. The contents of the Bill are a tightly kept secret. The Jarl signs it and has it hand-painted the day before Up Helly Aa. The Bill is placed on display at the Market Cross for everyone to read at six in the morning on Up Helly Aa day. The Bill’s provisions are often worded with humour, and we hope that the people it refers to feel the same way. The Bill is removed the night before the procession.
The group continues toward the coast for shots after witnessing the Bill. At this moment, a large crowd of schoolchildren congregates to observe the squad. The Guizer Jarl is often granted 24 hours of freedom of the town during a ceremony held in the Town Hall, which is attended by the Guizer and his team. The Lerwick hospital, aged homes, and elementary schools are next visited by the Jarl Squad. The Shetland Museum is their final stop before the nighttime parade.
On the same day, a Junior Up Helly Aa also takes place. The parents of the squad members must also sew outfits for the lads to wear throughout the winter. There are built torches and a tiny galley. At 5.30 p.m., the Junior squad starts their parade. The Guizer Jarl and his band of cheerleaders encourage them. The peerie is burned at the conclusion of their parade (Shetland word for little).
The Evening Procession of Up Helly Aa
At 7.15 p.m., Guizer Jarl and his squad advance in front of the guizer squads and take their positions. A maroon (or rocket) is shot at 7.30 p.m., and the streetlights are then turned off. The bands start playing, all 900 or more torches are ignited, and the march of 30 minutes starts.
Guizer Jarl was seated at the galley’s helm while the Jarl Squad led the procession. Nearly a thousand guizers participate in the parade, carrying torches as they accompany the galley on its journey to the ceremonial burning. Thousands of onlookers line the road, applauding the guizers as they pass by.
The guizers circle the galley as another rocket detonates high in the sky at the burning location. The squads advance while marching and singing one of the Up Helly Aa songs, The Norseman’s Home, as the Jarl is given the signal to depart his ship and the flaming torches are tossed into the galley.
What occurs after that?
After the nighttime parade, individuals in the 1800s opened their houses to guizers. Today, it has become customary for all the squads to perform for the public in Lerwick’s public spaces. A team will dress up and present its own act at each hall. This might be a humorous act based on a nearby event, a dance, a parody of a popular TV show, etc. After finishing their show, they travel to a different hall.
The day after Up Helly Aa is a vacation in Shetland, and then the planning for the festival the following year starts!
Educate kids about Up Helly Aa with our collection of fun tools!
We have a variety of Up Helly Aa learning resources that can be used at home or in the classroom to teach your students more about this amazing fire festival.
Start with our Up Helly Aa PowerPoint if you want. This entertaining and educational lecture explains the content on this wiki page in depth. Numerous images of the festival in action are also included.
Our Comprehension Sheets and Information Sheet might help you learn more more about Up Helly Aa. These will aid in their understanding of Up Helly Aa celebrations on the First and Second Levels.
We also provide a wide range of entertaining activities, such as our Up Helly Aa Procession Collaborative Coloring Activity Pack, to connect Up Helly Aa with Expressive Arts. This inspires your students to collaborate in order to produce a magnificent work of art. What a beautiful way to enliven your classroom bulletin board or the hallways of the school!
Or, why not use our Up Helly Aa Art Inspiration Photos PowerPoint to unleash your creativity? This displays several depictions of the Shetland event in an effort to motivate students to produce original Up artwork.
You may be confident that our resources are engaging and appropriate for your young learners since they were developed by a team of skilled teachers. Additionally, each tool has been created in accordance with the Curriculum for Excellence, making it pertinent and helpful for kids studying at First or Second Level. Download now to get going!
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