Women will be allowed to take part in the Viking-inspired torchlight procession on the remote Scottish island of Shetland for the first time next year, organizers said on Wednesday.
The committee in charge of the Up Helly Aa festival, which commemorates the end of the Christmas season, said it was time to lift restrictions on women taking part in the traditionally male-only procession.
“The decision means that the festival will take on a different dimension in Lerwick on Tuesday 31 January 2023, but we have no doubt that its essence and spirit will remain the same,” said committee secretary Robert Geddes.
The event, popular with tourists, traditionally drew around 1,000 male participants known as Guizers in Viking garb, who split up into squads to parade through town.
The walk is led by the “Guizer Jarl” or “Chief Guizer” and culminates with participants setting fire to a replica Viking longship with their flaming torches.
The modern event, which first took place in 1881, is famous for its festive parties, which often include traditional Shetland dancing and heavy drinking.
Rural Up Helly Aa processions on Shetland, which lies about 400 miles from Edinburgh in the middle of the North Sea, have allowed women to participate since 2015.
But the Lerwick Committee was strongly opposed to allowing female participants to take part in the celebration of the island’s Norse heritage.
“We felt it was time to give teams choice over their Guizers, including women’s participation,” Geddes said.
The other entry criteria – that the Guizers are over the age of 16 and have lived in Shetland continuously for the past five years – remain the same for the event, which has been canceled since 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
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