Wednesday, January 19, 2011
The History of Up Helly Aa
As Lerwick grew in size the celebrations became more elaborate. Sometime about 1840, the participants introduced burning tar barrels into the proceedings.
In the early days orders had to be conveyed by means of placards or proclamations at the Market Cross. This meant that the Guizers had to go there to find out where and when the festival would take place it was not always held on the last Tuesday of January as is the case today.
The first "Bill as we known it was produced in 1899, its primary purpose still being the conveyance of constructions. However, it was soon to be elaborated on by the addition of local jokes, satire, etc. and the bill head, painted each year by a local artist chosen by the Jarl. The painting usually depicts a scene from the Jarl's saga.
The contents of the "Bill" are produced in secret by a committee, the lettering being hand painted on the board the day before and finally the Jarl gives his seal of approval by signing the "Bill" that same evening.
At 6 in the morning of Up Helly Aa Day, the "Bill" is erected at the Market Cross for the public to read and is removed before the procession at night.
There is a lot of anticipation as to who is going to be featured each year and in general everything is taken in good humor.
Since 1949, when the festival resumed after the war, much has changed and much has remained the same. That year the BBC recorded a major radio program on Up Helly Aa, and from that moment Up Helly Aa ....not noted for its split second timing before the war... became a model of efficient organization. The numbers participating in the festival have become much greater, and the resources required correspondingly larger.
Whereas in the 19th century, individuals kept an open house to welcome the guizers on Up Helly Aa night, men and women now cooperated to open large halls throughout the town to entertain them. However, despite the changes, there are numerous threads connecting the Up Helly Aa of today with its predecessors 150 years ago. The festival takes place the last Tuesday in January every year in Lerwik, Shetland. Today the festival consists of a series of marches and visitations, culminating in a torch lit procession and Galley (a Viking ship) burning. Then there follows hours of performing acts in dancing halls, throughout the evening and early morning. The following Wednesday is a public holiday so everyone can recover from the festivities.
Up Helly Aa is a community event, with countless volunteers contributing many ours each winter towards organizing and planning the following year's festival.
The Guizer Jarl (Leader of the squad) and his squad begin their preparations in February, and many long hours of hard work go into the design and productions of their outfits.
The Up Helly Aa Committee begin their year preparing the Up Helly Aa Exhibition that runs from May until September in the Galley Shed. This boasts a full size Galley, Jarl Squad suits, other Squads memorabilia and an extensive collection of photographs recording the suits worn and the guizers involved.
In early September the Guizers of the remaining 45 squads begin their squad meetings and preparations. This involves determining the character or characters that they wish to rotary with their suits, making the suits while also creating and practicing their act to perform in the halls they visit throughout the evening.
At the end of September the Galley shed is transformed back into a working shed where the Galley and the torches are constructed during the winter. During this same period the Committee checks the progress of the preparations including the Collecting Sheet and Bill.
The Festival of Masquerade Games is the most important cultural event in the region. More than 5000 performers from all over Bulgaria, as well as groups from many European countries take part in the festival. It the most vital and deep rooted tradition of masquerading rites dating back to 1965. The festival has been held in Pernik since 1966. It is held on the last weekend of January.
In ancient times the old Thracians held the Kukeri Ritual Games in honor of the god Dionysus-the especially known as a god of wine and ecstasy. Even today the games are also known as the Dionysus' games. Among the Kukeri dancers' are many different character, including Dionysus and his satyrs as well as other from deep history such as the tsar, harachari, plyuvakachi, startzi, and pesyatzi.
During the international festival, Bulgarian and foreign folk groups march in a procession through Pernik, displaying exuberant costumes and fantastic masks to constant ringing of bells and rattles. They are performing the ancient rite of chasing away evil and celebrating the triumph of life being reborn, with the beginning of spring and the hopes of man and for a better harvest and a better life.