The residents of Shetland in Scotland have their own unique way of marking the midpoint of winter and the official closing of the Yule season. Thousands of people in Lerwick participate in the annual Up Helly Aa Festival on the final Tuesday every January, with smaller celebrations taking placing in neighboring villages. The annual fire procession features a Viking theme but it has only been a tradition in this region since the late 1800s.
Leading the parade is a person known as the Jarl. This is a coveted position that requires a minimum of 15 years of serving on a special committee for consideration. A single person is elected to join the committee every year. The remainder of the procession consists of local men dressed in costumes and marching through the streets holding lit torches aloft. They are called guizers, in reference to their disguises. Procession participants are divided up into squads and each picks its own theme for the festivities. Their preparation begins in September when they choose their characters and begin making their costumes.
The procession culminates in the burning of a Viking galley constructed especially for this occasion. After the procession, the participants visit various sports facilities, hotels and schools to perform comedic sketches for the crowd's amusement. The celebration lasts throughout the night and lucky for people who indulge, the next day is a public holiday to allow for recovery time.
The most extravagant fire festival on the continent may be a local custom made by and for the people living in Lerwick, but that has not stopped it from evolving into the largest celebration of its kind on the continent. Visitors from around the world gather in this small village to view the spectacle each year. They go not to escape the harsh winter weather but to embrace it and bid farewell to the Yule season as they look forward to springtime.
Travelers can choose from a variety of tour packages offering them the chance to experience this annual celebration firsthand. Multiple day tours provide plenty of time to explore the surrounding area and soak up the local culture. Most tours include all transportation, lodging, and tickets to some of the various hosting post procession performances.