Up Helly Aa – Shetland Fire Festival in Scotland

Up Helly Aa Fire Festival

The Shetland Fire Festival Up Helly Aa, Europe’s largest fire festival, is a series of 12 fire festivals that take place in many places on the Shetland Islands of Scotland.

The Fire Festival is dedicated to the memory of the Vikings who ruled the Shetland Islands in the 9th century over 1000 years ago for about 500 years. The Shetland Islands became part of Scotland in 1468. The event is held annually on the last Tuesday of January in the city of Lerwick, Scotland.

In the tradition of the Scandinavian Vikings, a spectacular procession takes place to celebrate the end of winter and the return of the sun.

The Parade Begins

Visitors from all over the world can visit this small town to celebrate this old festival. However, they must be residents of the Shetland Islands for 5 years to join the squad and procession.

Fire Festival
Up Helly Aa Fire Festival. Photo by Vicky Brock, Wunderstock

On the evening of Up Helly Aa Day, the parade begins with the blazing procession of the Jarl of the Viking Squad, a leading group of 1,000 men wearing Viking dress. The Guizer Jarl proudly stands at the helm of his replica longship, or ‘galley’.

It is kept secret what the head of the festival, “Jarler Gieser – Lord of Lerwick”, will wear, and which character from the Scandinavian sagas he will represent every year.

Fire festival
Up Helly Aa Fire Festival. Photo by Vicky Brock, Wunderstock

The Vikings wear sheepskins, and carry axes, shields, and torches, and are accompanied by traditional Up Helly Aa songs performed by a brass band.

The crowd is dressed in costumes from almost sublime to completely ridiculous. Women take part in the festival, organizing and preparing food, and creating a wonderful atmosphere for one of the most striking events of the year.

Fire Festival
Up Helly Aa Fire Festival. Photo by Vicky Brock, Wunderstock

The event is run exclusively by thousands of volunteers and organizers and includes a series of marches and visits with stops at hospitals and schools.

Read next: Music is universal in all cultures of the world

Viking Galley Fire

The culminating event – the parade takes place when a torch-lit procession sets in the fire a replica of a Viking longship galley. The crowd sings “ The Norseman’s Home ” – a stirring requiem, after which the participants and spectators cannot hold back their tears, and then continue to dance all night in the local halls.

Fire Festival
Up Helly Aa Fire Festival. Photo by Vicky Brock, Wunderstock

All guides and participants visit a dozen halls for private parties with the exception of a few lounges where tickets are sold to the general public.

Then Lerwick poet J.J. Haldane Burgess, published the novel The Viking Path, in 1894. This was the beginning of the formation of Up Helly Aa in the event known today.

If you did not know about this amazing festival and travel to the Shetland Islands later this year, you can still see many small fire festivals during the months of February to March on the islands.

Music is universal in all cultures of the world


Music has long been called the universal language of humankind. New research supports the finding that music all around the globe shares universal features, despite many differences.

The concept of cultural universality allows defining culture in terms of what is intrinsic to it in human culture. While some of the features are specific for each culture, others are distributed across the cultures.

The study of ethnic music can therefore be reviewed from their socio-cultural traditions as well as from the universal perspective.

Image by Masbet Christianto from Pixabay

Human Music is Universal

Samuel Mehr and colleagues address this challenge by merging modern data science with musical recordings and ethnographic records from world cultures to map out the universals and variations in human song (vocal music).

Mehr et al. built a discography of audio recordings accompanied with detailed descriptions of around 5000 detailed descriptions of songs and their performances in 60 human societies from 315 cultures.

Read next: Up Helly Aa – Shetland Fire Festival in Scotland

They created another database to analyze recordings taken of four types of music from 30 different regions, which included dance songs, healing songs, love songs, and lullabies.

The results of the study underscore the universality of music, suggesting humans might have an innate “grammar” for music.

Music is one of the Aspects of Human Cognition

Cognitive biologists Tecumseh Fitch and Tudor Popescu of the University of Vienna suggest that human musicality unites all cultures across the planet.

They comment on the implications: “Human musicality fundamentally rests on a small number of fixed pillars: hard-coded predispositions, afforded to us by the ancient physiological infrastructure of our shared biology. These ‘musical pillars’ are then ‘seasoned’ with the specifics of every individual culture, giving rise to the beautiful kaleidoscopic assortment that we find in world music,” Tudor Popescu explains.

The new research suggests that human musicality is one of these shared aspects of human cognition. The results also show there is more variation in musical context within cultures than between them.