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Guizers galore in Shetland

(Marshal Graham Nicolson (Guizer Jarl 2007) leads the 2008 Procession. Photo courtesy of Millgaet Media)

If you want a strange festival, this is it. Up Helly Aa is a bizarre yet peaceful way to brightening Shetland's long dark midwinter. Originating in the 1880s, since then the festival has been an annual occurrence on the local calendar, only ever cancelled in exceptional circumstances such as the death of the monarch.The Guizer Jarl is the Chief Guizer, the leader of the Jarl Squad who are the Vikings for the day.

The first Up Helly Aa leader was elected by his fellow guizers away back in 1882 and was given the title of Worthy Chief Guizer. His role was increasingly seen as one of substance and importance, so much so that, in 1906, it was decided to purchase a Viking suit of armour and other accoutrements for the chief, and to call him from then onwards, the Guizer Jarl.

The first Galley appeared in the Up-Helly-Aa procession in 1889 and was burned at the Market Cross at the end of the parade.

The early Galleys were made from a light timber frame covered with canvas or alternatively old boats, whose useful life afloat was over, were converted and subsequently sent to Valhalla. See more on this Youtube video....

The current Lerwick celebration grew out of the older yule tradition of tar barrelling which took place at Christmas and New Year as well as Up Helly Aa. Squads of young men would drag barrels of burning tar through town on sledges, making mischief. After the abolition of tar barrelling around 1874–1880, permission was eventually obtained for torch processions. The first yule torch procession took place in 1876. The first torch celebration on Up Helly Aa day took place in 1881. The following year the torchlit procession was significantly enhanced and institutionalised through a request by a Lerwick civic body to hold another Up Helly Aa torch procession for the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh. The first galley was introduced and burned in 1889.

Each year over 1,000 torches are burned between the Senior and junior festival. During the winter the Torch Boys meet twice a week to make this huge quantity. They are constructed from hessian sacks with a concrete shoulders to ensure it all stays in place for the procession. On the Monday before Up Helly Aa all of these torches are soaked in fuel to ensure they burn well.

(Even though it is January the guizers still cope with not much clothes on! Photo courtesy of Millgaet media)

The first Jarl’s outfit was described as follows: “He wore a silver helmet, with raven’s wings rising high on either side, a corselet with sleeves of silver mail was worn over a jerkin, fastened round the neck and hung loosely from the shoulders. On the legs were thigh length black stockings and on the feet were rawhide sandals fastened with tan leather thongs which criss-crossed over the instep and all the way up the thighs. He carried a round silver shield on which was engraved a raven, a large silver-headed battle axe and dagger hung from his belt.

More details....


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