LERWICK, UNITED KINGDOM — Residents of Scotland’s remote Shetland Islands brandishing swords and shields celebrated their Nordic roots on Tuesday at a spectacular fire festival which culminated in them burning a replica Viking ship.
Wearing winged helmets and boasting some impressive beards, hundreds of people marched through the streets of Lerwick to mark the Up-Helly-Aa festival in the archipelago’s only town.
After darkness fell, the festivities culminated in a torchlit parade headed by the Guizer Jarl or Viking chief.
Revelers circled the replica boat before throwing their flaming torches on to it, setting it alight and creating a huge pyre with flames shooting high in the air.
The nine-meter long Viking boat was built by a group of local tradesmen who had been working on it since October.
The Shetland Islands are the northernmost outpost of the British Isles and are closer to Oslo than London.
Around 105 miles (165 kilometers) northeast of the Scottish mainland, Shetland was invaded by Vikings in the late 8th and early 9th centuries.
The archipelago was pledged to Scotland by the king of Norway in 1469 but the Norwegian spirit lives on in street and place names.
“Up-Helly-Aa” is a variant of the Scots Uphaliday, denoting Epiphany as the end of the Christmas holiday, according to the New Oxford Dictionary.
Held on the last Tuesday in January, the torchlit parade, longship burning and dressing up in Viking costumes took off in the 1880s.
Peter Malcolmson, the 1984 Guizer Jarl who portrayed a character entitled Eirik Bloodaxe Haraldson, said it was a “huge spectacle.”
“Tonight you’ll see about 1,000 men with torches lining up in the streets getting ready for the procession,” he told BBC radio.
“Shetlanders all over the world at the moment will be smelling the paraffin and that’s a sense of the anticipation of the event and the pride in it.
“The adrenaline is flowing, the fun is there; it’s just a great party.”
The merry-making goes on until after dawn on Wednesday, when Shetland has a much-needed official public holiday. — AFP