Formerly called Merkis days or Rets o' da year are traditional holidays and celebrations in Shetland.
The Gregorian Calendar replaced the Julian Calendar in Britain in 1752, but for many years after the change was regarded in Shetland with suspicion and events were still celebrated in the 'old style' rather than the 'new style'. Sometimes 12 days were added and sometimes 13. Some of the days marked were a throwback to pre-Reformation times and varied from district to district.
New'er-day (New Year's Day) Not celebrated to any great extent formerly.
Treteen-day Minor festival (Old Christmas)
Antonsmas Earlier called St Anthony's Day.
"Da sna nivir comes i da hus till Antinsmas" and "Antinsmas sna is da warst sna"
24th Nicht or Up Helly Aa
"If Candlesmas Day be bright an fair
Half o' da winters ta come an mair
But if Candlesmas Day be dark and dül
Half o' da winter was dün at Yule"
"First comes Candlesmas, dan da new mün, da first Tjasday eftir is Fasterns E'en"
(Until the 18th Century, people burned candles in the ruins of old kirks, such as St Ninian's Isle and Cross Kirk, Eshaness, despite the efforts of the Church to stop them. These special candles were kept at home and lit if there was lightning, or they suspected the presence of evil.)
Fastern E'en (A moveable festival)
Da Lentern was from Fasterns E'en until Easter.
Start of the crofting year, and delling was started. Da Voar was from Bogel-day until Beltin.
Skür-Fursday. Moveable festival, six weeks after Fasterns E'en.
Guid Friday (Good Friday). Again, six weeks after Fasterns E'en.
Paes Sunday. (Easter Sunday) Fires were lit in the hill where bairns boiled eggs and threw them in the air. This is cognate with the Old English "Pace", and Latin "Pasca", both meaning Easter.
- 29th, 30th, 30th.
Da Borrowin days. Storm expected.
This marks the start of the summer half-year, the weather on this day determined the weather for the coming month, the wind direction would be the main wind direction for the summer. Start of the four-month 'Simmer-dim'.
Haaf fishing begins. A Northerly gale 'da Beltin-ree' or 'da Lamma-ree' expected.
Beltin (or Beltane) was an important date in the pagan calendar, and is widely celebrated in many areas, particularly the Celtic countries. Bonfires were lit to symbolize the life-giving powers of the sun, and also to ward off evil.
In Shetland, bonfires were burned until the late 1800's. Fathers would take their children in their arms and leap through the flames.
An open air party, or foy, was usually held and fishermen held their own foy to signify the start of the haaf fishing.
Corsmas Old teind collecting day. Observed particularly in Northmavine
Traditionally the start of the herring fishing. The Dutch boats would arrive and wait in Bressay Sound (Known to the Dutch fishermen as 'De Bai') until the 24th.
Johnsmas Foy was held with a huge bonfire where people gave thanks for their blessings.
Martin o' Bollamas day
Named after St Martin le bouillant (boiling). This was the summer feast of St Martin, the winter feast being Martinsmas. According to tradition, if it rains this day, it will rain for forty days more.
The end of the haaf fishing (the three months from Beltain to Lammas) Boats were hauled up and put in their nausts for the winter. There was a Lammas Foy, to which all the fishermen in the area would bring their wives or sweethearts. People drank each others health and sang, but there was never any dancing at a Lammas Foy. This also corresponds to Lughnasa, a Celtic festival, like Beltain.
The daylight hours begin to shorten.
Equated with the autumnal equinox and stormy weather. Gales would destroy standing fields of corn, leaving a tangled mess called 'eker'.
Miklsmas, (Michaelsmas) This marked the end of the growing season, crops would grow no further.
Winter Day, the winter half-year begins.
Samhain or Hallowmas. Much celebrated, skeklin went on for days.
Samhain was the most important date in the pagan calendar, marking the start of the new year. All over the world, people believed that the souls of the dead could visit earth for one night on the eve of Samhain, or All Hallow's Eve as it became known. The Church tried to give Samhain a new Christian meaning, and re-named it All Saint's Day. Like Beltain, and Lammas, this festival has a strong Celtic influence.
Shetlanders believed that the trows came out to play tricks around the croft and the skeklers were out guizing to remind folks of the trow's antics.
Martinmas was the date when rents were settled and new terms of tenure would begin.
Tamasmas E'en. Yule begins
Tollig's Ee'n. (Eve of Tollig's Day)
Tollig's Day. In Iceland, this is celebrated as "Thorláksmessa", and is named after St Þorlákr Þórhallsson/Thorlac Thorhalli, bishop of Skalholt from 1178 until his death. In 1985, St Þorlákr became patron saint of Iceland.
- Brenja's Sunday, the Sunday before Yule. Also recorded as Beainer Sunday. It was a custom to hang an ox-head above the chimney to be made into broth.
Yule E'en. (Christmas Eve). Although Yule is generally considered an old name for Christmas (and it was once used more widely, throughout the British isles, cf "Yuletide"), the name is in fact pagan in origin, and originates with the Norse.
Yule Day. (Christmas Day) Great celebration, men and boys played traditional football, with a dance at night.
Second day Celebrations (Boxing Day)
Mansmas Day, Helja's Nicht.
On Helja's Nicht, a supper of meal and milk was served and Midder Mary was asked to look after the bairns.