Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hava Nagila In The Shetland Islands Near The Arctic Circle

Regular Jewish Humor Central readers know that we have been following the trail of Hava Nagila around the world and visiting far-flung locations where singing and dancing to this classsic Jewish melody defy any logic. Our last posting was a month ago when we took you to Peru and included links to all the other countries where we discovered Hava Nagila lovers.

This journey has certainly led us to see unusual places and to learn about world geography, but today we think we found the most remote location and most bizarre rendition of the classic song yet.

First, the geography lesson. Over 300 miles north of Edinburgh lie the Shetland Islands, more than half-way between London and the Arctic circle. The Shetland Islands are as far North as Helsinki (Finland), Hudson Bay (Canada), Alaska (USA) and Leningrad (Russia). However, the climate in Shetland is not as extreme as in any of these other places, thanks to the moderating effect of the very northern end of the Gulf Stream.
The islands themselves belong to Scotland, and are part of the UK, so UK traffic regulations apply, Scottish Law applies, Shetland is part of the UK Postal network, and everyone speaks standard English (although the old Shetland dialect is still heard occasionally).

Each year the Shetland islanders celebrate the abiding influence of the Vikings,
who arrived in Shetland just over 1000 years ago, with the largest fire festival in Europe, called Up Helly Aa.

The Jarl in front of his burning galley After a torch-light procession of up to a thousand "guizers" through the streets of Lerwick a full-size replica Viking longship is ceremonially burned. The "guizers" and onlookers then repair to local halls for a night of revelry, dancing and partying. (Guizers are mummers or actors in a folk play, usually wearing outlandish costumes.)

After the burning of the ship, the party continues, as 48 squads, consisting of exactly 902 guizers, all disguised with a particular theme in mind, visit eleven halls in rotation.

At every hall each squad performs its 'act', perhaps a skit on local events, a dance display in spectacular costume, or a topical send-up of a popular TV show or pop group. Every guizer has a duty (as the Up Helly A Song says) to dance with at least one of the ladies in the hall, before taking yet another dram. 

Would you believe that on March 11 one of the squads dressed up as participants in a Chassidic wedding and after the ceremony (with one of the authentic Sheva B'rachot) sang and danced a rousing version of Hava Nagila?  You have to see it to believe it, so here's the video. Enjoy!


  1. The above information is mostly accurate, but it is worth clarifying that the event at which the Hava Nagila squad act was performed was not the main Up Helly Aa (held in Lerwick on the last Tuesday in January), but at the South Mainland Up Helly Aa.

  2. the website of the South Mainland Up Helly Aa is