Scotland might not be on most travelers’ lists of places to visit in January, but if you’re in the UK on Jan. 25th, make sure you head up to the town of Lerwick, which is the capital of the Shetland Islands, for the annual Lerwick Up Helly Aa festival, which has to be one of the strangest titles for an event in the world.
The event is a festival of fire that features about 1,000 participants dressed as Vikings. They burn a Viking galley as well as hold a torch-lit parade in the streets.
The event is believed to be connected to an ancient practice where Vikings burned a galley as some sort of sacrifice to the sun. However, some people believe the event is to mark the start of spring, but they may be a little harder to believe if it’s held in January. Either way, people from all over the country head to the festival to enjoy themselves.
The event kicks off early in the evening when participants gather at Hillhead in the town center. The parade starts soon after and is led by a “jarl”, which is a Viking warrior. The participants light their torches and drag a huge Viking galley to a burning site and then throw their torches into the ship and watch it go up in flames.
When the galley has burned out, participants head off to several local halls and perform special songs and dances for spectators. The partying goes on well into the night as everybody celebrates.