Up Helly Aa is a legendary viking festival that takes place in Scotland every year.
Realistic armoured costumes, group chanting, and a full-on ship burning was only the beginning of a night filled with drinking, dancing and… Well, more drinking.
All groups of ‘vikings’ are known as Jarl Squads, which are led by an elected Guizer Jarl. The squads spend the whole day marching through Lerwick, the capital of Shetland province, and eventually make their way to the waterfront, where they burn a viking ship with one thousand torches.
Once the boat is nice and crispy, they retire to town hall and drink beer until the sun comes up.
The festival is a deeply cherished tradition in the Shetland islands, which were invaded and colonised by Norse viking settlers in the 8th century, and became a Norwegian province until 1472.
Those hundreds of years left an impact on the now Scottish territory, which continues to celebrate its Scandinavian history.
The most commonly sung song for English-speakers on New Year’s eve, “Auld Lang Syne” is an old Scottish song that was first published by the poet Robert Burns in the 1796 edition of the book, Scots Musical Museum.
Burns transcribed it (and made some refinements to the lyrics) after he heard it sung by an old man from the Ayrshire area of Scotland, Burns’s homeland.
It is often remarked that “Auld Lang Syne” is one of the most popular songs that nobody knows the lyrics to. “Auld Lang Syne” literally translates as “old long since” and means “times gone by.”
The song asks whether old friends and times will be forgotten and promises to remember people of the past with fondness, “For auld lang syne, we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet.
“The lesser known verses continue this theme, lamenting how friends who once used to “run about the braes,/ And pou’d the gowans fine” (run about the hills and pulled up the daisies) and “paidl’d in the burn/Frae morning sun till dine” (paddled in the stream from morning to dusk) have become divided by time and distance—”seas between us braid hae roar’d” (broad seas have roared between us).
Yet there is always time for old friends to get together—if not in person then in memory—and “tak a right guid-willie waught” (a good-will drink).
But it was bandleader Guy Lombardo, and not Robert Burns, who popularized the song and turned it into a New Year’s tradition. Lombardo first heard “Auld Lang Syne” in his hometown of London, Ontario, where it was sung by Scottish immigrants.
When he and his brothers formed the famous dance band, Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, the song became one of their standards. Lombardo played the song at midnight at a New Year’s eve party at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City in 1929, and a tradition was born.
Gretna Green in Scotland, has been a hotspot for tying the knot since the 18th Century.
But why do people still choose to walk down its many aisles?
The Scottish village of Gretna Green – population 2,700 – hosts almost two weddings per person per year.
The estimated 5,000 marriages that take place every year seem extraordinary if you consider that a mere 3,000 weddings took place across the entire county of neighbouring Cumbria – population 500,000 – in 2011.
Gretna’s status as the ultimate wedding destination comes from its position just north of the Scottish border.
In 1754, an English law stopped couples under 21 marrying without their parents’ permission.
But in Scotland it was permitted for girls from the age of 12, and for boys aged 14 or older. Moreover, anyone in Scotland could marry a couple by “declaration”.
Young star-crossed lovers in England would elope and Gretna was the first town they would come to, two miles over the border. Enterprising blacksmiths set themselves up as “anvil priests”, carrying out the ceremony in return for a drink or a few guineas.
One blacksmith wrote to the Times in 1843, specifying that he alone had performed around 3,500 marriages in the town over 25 years.
Several attempts were made to curb the phenomenon – which one MP for Newcastle described in 1855 as “lowering the habits, injuring the character, and destroying the morality of the people of the northern counties of England”.
A year later an act was introduced to require a “cooling-off period” of 21 days’ residency in the parish in which a couple wished to marry.
In 1940 the institution of “marriage by declaration” was outlawed in Scotland and in 1977 English couples could finally get married without parental consent at 18.