The Independent: Hunting Viking spirit in Shetland

The islands’ notorious fire festival, Up Helly Aa, might be cancelled this year, but there’s still plenty of Norse code to crack, says Janice Hopper

January to March would normally see Shetland come alive during Up Helly Aa, the festival that echoes dramatic Norse rituals of cremating celebrated Viking leaders in their ships. Today's event has evolved over time, and can be attributed to a heady combination of influences: the Norse tradition of celebrating the end of Yuletide; masked and disguised ‘guizers’ visiting neighbours; and lively male fire-starters rolling flaming tar barrels through the Shetland streets (banned in 1874). By the late 19th century, Up Helly Aa included the torchlit procession and galley ship we know today, with the addition of “Viking squads” introduced after the First World War.

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