A Lerwick Christmas One Hundred Years Ago: 1921

The Town Council decided which day the Christmas holiday should be on, there had been petitions. After some deliberation they settled on Tuesday 27 December, and recommended that employers give a full day’s pay, or alternatively, a full day’s work on Saturday.

The Town Council decided which day the Christmas holiday should be on, there had been petitions. After some deliberation they settled on Tuesday 27 December, and recommended that employers give a full day’s pay, or alternatively, a full day’s work on Saturday. Some councillors argued for Saturday to be the holiday, but others pointed out that people had already made arrangements for Tuesday.

Lerwick Town Hall, 1920s. Photo by B Inkster. Ref: BI00063

This might sound a bit strange to modern ears but remember Shetland was still a quite isolated part of Britain in 1921, and working people had few holiday rights. Anyway, in 1921 Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, and Shetland was a place that had a quiet and devout Sabbath. If you wanted a celebration, you had to have it on another day.

Town Council minute, 12 December 1921

The Shetland Times, 31 December, reported how the day had gone ahead. Christmas Eve (on Monday) had seen poor weather with rain and sleet, improving towards evening. Nevertheless, the peerie guizers, children, had come out, and later on adults. It had resembled the informal guising of the old days, celebrations had become tidier and more orderly over the past few decades.

For the inmates of the County Homes, aka the Poorhouse, Christmas Eve also meant a treat, complete with Christmas tree. Sheriff Forbes, among others, made a speech, and there were gifts. Music too, W.A. Watt sang The Lum Hat Wantin a Croon, and a Mr Sutherland played a selection of Scotch Airs on the fiddle. Mr Hyslop was thanked for providing the tree.

The United Free Kirk had repeated the service they held on Sunday the 25th on the Tuesday, an excellent attendance. Still poor weather, it was a quiet day, and entertainment began at night. The Masonic Hall held a whist drive, but the Town Hall was the place to be, a Christmas Ball.

The Shetland Times reported 110 couples, and Dance music, all of most recent production, was supplied by a jazz band of 15 instruments. It was modern entertainment, probably quicksteps and foxtrots, along with a few other modern dances, not jigs and reels, no whirl and birl. It was good enough to keep everyone going until 4.30 in the morning.

No doubt some of the protagonists at the ball were back in the Town Hall on Wednesday evening. The Up Helly Aa guizers met in the burgh courtroom to choose their Jarl, and set a date. The next festival got into the planning stage.

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