The Vikings light it up
By Aashima On 1 Feb, 2013 At 07:17 PM | Categorized As Fests and Celebrations, International | With 0 Comments
It’s a scene right out of the Middle Ages, as hordes of Vikings, wielding battle axes and shields, set fire to a galley ship and watch it go up roaring in flames with a wild delight. You’ll be surprised then to hear that all of this took place just three days back, on Tuesday, January 29 as part of the crazy Up Helly Aa festival, which is celebrated every year in the town of Lerwick on the Shetland Islands, Scotland.

Having its roots in the riotous celebrations that followed every time armies and sailors returned home after long months at sea, Up Helly Aa was first begun sometime in the 1880s. Its main purpose now is to commemorate the Viking heritage of the Shetland Islands and it’s all accomplished in some incredible style.

Kids of the Young Jarl Squad march down the streets

On the last Tuesday of every January, almost a thousand volunteers dressed as Vikings, or Guizers as they are locally called, parade down the streets as the crowd sings Viking songs. During the day local legends are reenacted and once night falls, it’s time for spectacular torchlight procession and the climax of the festival – the burning of a replica galley, a Viking longboat.

The galley surrounded by torch-bearing Vikings

This year too, a 9.2 meter galley was built by the locals, which was such it a good model that it must have been a shame to burn it down. The costumes too were taken seriously, with tremendous attention to paid to details. Some were dressed in winged helmets and sheepskins, while on the ‘Guizer Jarl’ was reported to have been outfitted with “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.

Although the burning of the galley marks the culmination of the festival, you don’t know your Vikings if you think that’s where the celebrations end. Dancing, drinking and all-around merry-making continues all through the night and even after the next day dawns, long after the flames have died away.

About - In grade 7, Aashima's Geography teacher made her fall in love with the big big world and the small little places in it. She's still all starry eyed about it.

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