Up Helly Aa Fire Festival Celeberation Shetland Images Photos Pictures
It is a blustery January night on Scotland’s northernmost cluster of islands, and while the rest of the UK is bemoaning their bank balances and swearing off alcohol, Shetland is in the middle of a party like nothing I have seen before. Up Helly Aa is one of the world’s most spectacular festivals, on a par with India’s colourful Holi, Nevada’s Burning Man and Laos’s Songkran water fight.
A series of fire festivals held around Shetland throughout winter, Up Helly Aa sometimes makes it into the national news, but most accounts end with the procession of flaming-torch-wielding, creatively costumed ‘guizers’, or performers, parading darkened streets in organised squads, all converging on the dramatic burning of a full-sized replica Viking longboat.
For Shetlanders, that is just the beginning; in Lerwick, the capital of the islands, the festivities go on until the following morning at community halls across the town. This is why, nine hours after the boat met its fiery end, I’m in the back of a lorry with one of the 47 squads, comprising nearly two dozen men in pink velour Clanger costumes, all dancing to the Clash. We lurch from side to side, passing around bottles of Buckfast, the fortified wine with cult status across Scotland, before pulling up at the Islesburgh Community Centre, where the men tug back on the mouse-like snouts of the psychedelic characters.
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