Up-Helly-AA is Europe's largest and most spectacular winter fire festival. In the biting Arctic wind on the last Tuesday of every January, a "Guizer Jarl" leads one thousand men in guising costumes with flaming torches through the streets of Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Isles, accompanying a Viking galley to its ceremonial burning. This is the first full study of the historical origins and contemporary significance of Up-Helly-AA. It traces the formation of Yule celebrations in the 1840s into the civic ritual constructed in the 1880s and 1890s by Shetland nationalists, folk revivalists, labour activists, teetotallers and municipal authorities. In the twentieth century, the renamed "Up-Helly-AA" became the principal community event in the Shetlands, making complex statements about gender, class, "nation," rebelliousness and respectability.
Callum G. Brown is Senior Lecturer in History and Director of the Scottish Oral History Centre at the University of Strathclyde.
Introduction * The Festival of Up-Helly-AA in the 1990s * The Last Tuesday in January * Festival, Geography and the Calendar * History and Community * Understanding Custom * The Folklorists * The Historians * Festivals and Theories * Misrule Without Custom: Lerwick 1625-1800 * Leir-vik (Norn: "Mud Bay") * Morality and Culture * Smuggling and Outsiders * Culture without Custom * Mischief and Misrule at Yule 1800-1872 * The Rise of "Mischief" as Custom * Policing the Revels * Religion and Respectability * Mischief as Misrule * "Perfectly in Custom": The Birth of Up-Helly-AA 1873-1906 * The Turning Point * Rough and Respectable * Symbols and Ideologies * Twentieth-Century Festival * Moral Politics and the Decline of "Herringopolis" 1906-1970 * Old and Festival Fetish * Insiders and Outsiders * Symbols of Gender * Community, Custom and History * History and Boundaries * Community and Ideology * Calendar Customs