Shetland is famous for many things- Viking heritage, adorable tiny ponies, a
certain intense Detective Inspector and, arguably, most of all for Up Helly Aa.
From January to March, Shetlanders from all across the isles light up the dark
winter by throwing a wild fire festival called Up Helly Aa. This is an Old Norse
term, and roughly translates as “Up Holy Day All” which is a call for people to
celebrate the end of the Christmas season.
There has been a tradition of loud and fiery hell raising in Shetland at the New
Year dating back to the early 1800s, when young men, fresh back from the
Napoleonic wars, full of spit, vinegar- and firearms- would get a wee bit carried
away. This progressed into rolling flaming barrels of tar through the streets of
Lerwick, but as you might imagine, this was also in danger of getting out of control.
By the late 1800s, a group of local youths tamed and transformed the celebration into what we would recognize as being closer to our modern Up Helly Aa-complete with parades, costumes, music, dancing, talent shows and most famously, the spectacular torchlight procession and burning of Viking galleys.
You might think that the festival is only about Vikings, but only the lead squad- the Jarl Squad- sport Norse battle outfits. You will see other squads “guizing”- or disguised- as everything from Storm Troopers to cheerleaders. Groups put together fun music numbers to entertain the crowds through the night. Local venues across the isles open their doors for dancing, music, food and a visit from each of the squads, who are bussed around to all the various venues, so everyone can watch them strut their stuff.
The Jarl Squad spends the whole year coming up with costume and jewelry ideas and building a real wooden Viking style galley, and it can take up to 1200 hours to construct and decorate each ship. The culmination of the festival is when the Jarl squad and the guizers throw their burning torches onto the galley to its fiery demise. That’s a lot of work for a 30-minute bonfire!
This year has been extra special for the Aurora team. Not only did Steven and Bill march in the main procession with the Kirkwall City Pipe Band, we were also commissioned to make a unique jewelry collection for the Jarl Squad. Teresa Shearer designed this unique collection, based on the Jarl squad's shield, a stunning bird and Celtic knot design. The squad sported matching pewter plaid brooches on each shoulder. For family and friends, various pieces including necklaces, earrings and cufflinks carry on the design motif. Whilst these pieces are only available to the Jarl squad and their families we have also replicated the squads axe in the form of a kilt pin which is available to purchase in our shops and on our website. 10% of all sales of the axe will be donated to Up Helly Aa funds.
Browse our other exclusive Norse themed ranges, including our Viking galley charms, pendants, brooch or neck wire in silver. Or our Viking inspired runic jewelry collection, featuring rings, bangles, earrings and pendants in gold or silver, with “Heath and Happiness” inscribed in runes. You can even choose your own custom message.
Here’s wishing you and yours health and happiness for the coming year- and hoping to perhaps even see you at a future Up Helly Aa!