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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Up Helly Aa Please!

Pyromaniacs and Viking enthusiasts rejoice! I have found the perfect vacation for you! Up Helly Aa is this ridiculously awesome annual festival that they hold in every January on the Shetland archipelago, north of Scotland. It's all about celebrating the old Norse heritage of the region with badass cosplay and fire. Lots and lots of fire.

It's really cool too how it's a huge part of community life in the region. Dads and Grandpas around here join the Lions Club, men there join the Jarl Squad. Every year, the Jarl Squad votes one member to be that years Guizer Jarl, or head viking. This guy gets to portray the famous historical Viking of his choice and ride on the galley that gets incinerated at the end. He also gets to name the ship and pick the song that Jarl Squad marches in to. A full list of all past Guizers and their choices are here. Most of them make dignified, cool choices, like choosing Ragnar Lodbrok or Gunnar Hamundarson for their characters. But in 2005 Peter Fraser (AKA Earl Sigurd o' Gord, who doesn't exist on wikipedia) inexplicably chose "The Teddy Bears Picnic" as the fearsome viking anthem.

The community aspect of this festival extends into the high school, where students vote for Junior Guizer Jarl like they would a prom king. The Junior Jarl Squad build their own, smaller boat that they burn down seperately, about two hours before the real thing. Like their senior counterparts, the Junior Guizer also gets to name the ship. They picked a lot of formidable sounding names too, until 2001, when they just started naming it after their girlfriends (Alicia? Brenda? I doubt a real viking would name his ship Kylie, but whatever!).

It seems like a lot of manly fun. After they light everything on fire, there's dancing until morning at 12 different hall throughout the town. I'm thinking about getting my ticket for next Jan. Hooray for Europe's Largest Fire Festival!

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