Today in Shetland sees the start of the annual Up Helly Aa season, with the Scalloway Fire Festival getting underway tonight. Scalloway is the first of 10 Fire Festivals celebrated throughout the Isles, from mid-January through to the end of March. The main Up Helly Aa held in Lerwick on the last Tuesday in January is the largest Fire Festival in Europe and the most well known of them all.
The Lerwick Festival is also the oldest dating back to the late 1800's, and evolved from traditional torch-lit processions around the town at Christmas and New Year. The Viking element of the Festival emerged later and has now become a prominent feature of all the Fire Festivals. The Viking costumes are all made by the participants themselves and a very closely guarded secret. Speculation is rife throughout the Isles as each Up Helly Aa Day dawns as to whether the Jarl Squad, as it is known, will be sporting helmets with horns, wings, or what has now become quite common and more authentic, neither of them.
Leonard Raven-Hill (1867-1942) cartoon shows the problem sometimes encountered when trying to procure horns.
CURIO DEALER: "There's a nice pair o' horns, on'y a couple of pounds."
CALEDONIAN: "They're awfu' dear."
DEALER: "Of course they're orf a deer. Wot d'yer 'spose they're orf! A rabbit?"