Holidays Around the World for Jan. 29: Up-Helly-Aa


Last Tuesday in January

This ancient fire festival is observed by people of Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. In pre-Christian times their Norse ancestors welcomed the return of the sun god with Yule, a 24-day period of feasting, storytelling, and bonfires. The last night of the festival was called Up-Helly-Aa, or “End of the Holy Days.”

Today a group known as the Guizers builds a 31-foot model of a Viking longship, complete with a dragon’s head and many oars, in honor of those Viking invaders who decided to remain in Scotland. On the night of Up-Helly-Aa, the Guizers dress in Norse costumes and helmets and carry the boat to a large open field. There they throw lit torches into the ship and burn it.

Up-helly-Aa originally referred to Epiphany, or January 6—the day when the Yuletide holidays came to an end. The shifting of the date to the end of January probably reflects the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1752. This day is also referred to as Uphaliday, Uphelya, Up-Helly-Day, Uphalie Day, or Uphalimass .

Shetland Islands Tourism
Market Cross
Lerwick, Shetland ZE1 0LU United Kingdom
44-87-0199-9440; fax: 44-19-5046-0807
AnnivHol-2000, p. 18
BkHolWrld-1986, Jan 28
DictDays-1988, p. 124
EncyChristmas-2003, p. 776
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 48
RelHolCal-2004, p. 270

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.