Christmas in Greenland

Christmas in Greenland: Celebrating the Festive Season in the Arctic

Christmas in Greenland is an intriguing fusion of traditional Inuit practices and Danish customs, reflecting the country’s cultural tapestry.

During this festive season, families gather, and communities light up against the stark Arctic backdrop.

Greenlanders embrace the holiday spirit with a distinct touch, adding local twists to familiar celebrations.

The arrival of the first Sunday of Advent marks the commencement of the holiday season.

The lighting of Christmas trees is a tradition that brings a special warmth and cosiness to the extended polar nights.

Snow-covered landscape with colorful houses, twinkling lights, and a starry sky. A towering Christmas tree adorned with ornaments and a glowing star stands in the center of a town square

Greenland’s homes and towns are decorated with an abundance of red-orange Christmas stars, which adorn windows and contribute to the festive atmosphere.

Another central aspect of the Greenlandic Christmas experience is the unique local cuisine enjoyed during the holiday.

Tables are graced with special dishes made from indigenous ingredients like seal, whale, and reindeer, alongside imported treats that round off the celebratory feasts.

Additionally, Christmas in Greenland is characterized by a communal feeling that extends beyond the family.

The exchange of Christmas greetings, a tradition upheld through the world’s oldest continuous radio broadcast, knits the nation together.

Meanwhile, children and adults alike revel in games, outdoor activities, and the creation of snowmen.

Though enveloped in winter’s darkness, the Greenlandic Christmas shines brightly, illuminated by the joy, customs, and shared experiences that define the spirit of the season.

History and Origin of Christmas in Greenland

Snow-covered landscape with traditional Greenlandic homes adorned with festive decorations. Northern lights dance across the night sky, creating a magical atmosphere

Christmas in Greenland blends Christian traditions and Inuit customs, reflecting its historical and cultural evolution under Danish influence. This holiday season draws from the traditions of Denmark and the indigenous Greenlandic people, continuously incorporating new practices into its observance.

Danish Influence on Greenlandic Christmas

The Danish presence in Greenland has steadily shaped the way Christmas is celebrated.

Denmark’s relationship with Greenland brought Christian beliefs and European festive traditions to its shores.

The “juullimi pilluarit” greeting, which means “Merry Christmas,” is an example of this integration, combining the Greenlandic language with Christian sentiments.

Danish customs, such as the presence of candles and Christmas stars in windows, are widely adopted in Greenlandic homes.

Christianity and Inuit Traditions

Christianity was introduced to Greenland in the early 18th century, leading to a fusion of Church teachings with existing Inuit culture.

Inuit customs were interwoven with Christian symbols and narratives, creating unique celebrations such as lighting candles on Christmas trees, indicative of the Christian influence on a traditionally animistic culture.

Development of Modern Christmas Celebrations

The adaptation to a modern lifestyle influenced Greenland’s Christmas practices.

Imported foreign cuisine and decorations add to the local customs, showing a tendency toward globalization.

Yet, traditional foods like whale meat and reindeer remain staples, reflecting Greenland’s dual adherence to both past and present.

Evolution of Yuletide Customs

Yuletide customs in Greenland have evolved, including adaptations of Santa Claus and Danish mythologies.

Traditional kaffemiks, social gatherings around homemade cakes and coffee, are also integral to the holiday. They blend the celebratory customs from Denmark with local Greenlandic traditions.

Greenlandic Christmas Insights

Greenland’s Christmas retains a distinct identity through its communal and familial focus.

Despite the changes over the years, the core of the Greenlandic Christmas spirit revolves around spending time with family, sharing meals, and enjoying the company of loved ones, which echoes the importance of community in Inuit culture.

Cultural Celebrations and Practices

A snowy village with colorful houses, decorated with Christmas lights and traditional Greenlandic ornaments. People gather around a large bonfire, singing and dancing to celebrate the holiday

Greenland’s Christmas is enriched by unique customs that intertwine Inuit heritage with Christian festivities, setting the stage for diverse cultural experiences during the holiday season.

Unique Greenlandic Christmas Events

In Greenland, the Christmas season begins on the first day of Advent, and special gatherings in churches, where hymns and Christmas carols resonate, occur.

A notable event is Mitaartut, which is celebrated around Epiphany with elements of both Inuit culture and Danish influence.

Local Greenlandic Delicacies

Christmas cuisine in Greenland features traditional dishes like mattak, which is whale skin with blubber, and kiviak, which is small birds fermented inside a seal skin.

These are complemented by warming suaasat, a hearty soup often shared among families during the holidays.

Folklore and Mythology

Greenlandic folklore during Christmas often includes tales of magical northern lights that festoon the winter sky.

These stories are passed down through generations, adding mystique to the celebrations.

Music and Dance Traditions

Dancing is a vibrant part of Christmas celebrations in Greenland, often performed in traditional attire.

Church services on Christmas Eve are typically followed by community dances, where everyone partakes, irrespective of age.

Communal and Family Gatherings

Family is at the heart of Greenland’s Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, homes glow warmly as families come together.

In the town of Uummannaq, it’s tradition for a Santa Claus to visit.

For New Year in Greenland, communities often gather for fireworks, symbolizing the festive spirit that unites them.

Decorations and Symbolisms

Snow-covered landscape with traditional Greenlandic decorations: polar bears, seals, and Inuit symbols. Northern lights shimmer in the sky

The festive season in Greenland is distinctly marked by the use of traditional decorations and the symbolism attached to them.

These decorations encapsulate the essence of Greenlandic Christmas, from the advent candles that countdown to the holiday to the red-orange Christmas stars adorning windows.

Advent and Countdown to Christmas

Advent in Greenland is the period of anticipation leading up to Christmas, starting on the first Sunday of Advent.

Homes and churches light advent candles signifying the countdown, a cherished practice.

Each Sunday, a new candle is lit, with the growing light reflecting the approaching joy of Christmas.

Greenlandic Homes and Public Spaces

In Greenlandic homes, the Christmas spirit comes alive with abundant decorations.

Windows light up with the glow of red-orange Christmas stars, a prominent feature in nearly every home.

Public spaces also embrace this festive decoration, with lights and candles adding to the sense of community and warmth during the long winter nights.

Use of Natural Elements

The decorations in Greenland often incorporate elements from nature.

Driftwood, heather, and berries are commonly used to create unique and meaningful decorations.

Driftwood trees, crafted in a minimalist style, are a sustainable alternative gaining popularity, whereas heather and berries add a touch of the Greenlandic wilderness to the decor.

The Christmas Tree Tradition

Greenland does not have many trees that are suitable for traditional Christmas trees.

However, it is customary for communities to place a large Christmas tree on a nearby hill, making it visible to everyone.

These trees are often imported and decorated before Advent to stand as beacons of the festive spirit.

The Christmas tree tradition reflects the Greenlandic people’s shared joy and community spirit during this time of celebration.

Christmas Eve and Day Traditions

A cozy living room with a decorated Christmas tree, stockings hanging by the fireplace, and a table set with traditional Greenlandic holiday foods

Christmas in Greenland is a time rich with tradition and family, where religious observances intermingle with cultural festivities. It’s a period marked by special church services and the giving of gifts, complemented by unique feasts and cherished family activities.

Religious Observances and Church Services

On Christmas Eve, families in Greenland attend church services where hymns and Christmas carols are sung.

These services are central to the celebration, reflecting the importance of religion in the community.

The churches are often adorned with candles and stars, creating a warm ambience.

The Exchange of Gifts

After the church service on Christmas Eve, families exchange gifts.

This practice is eagerly anticipated by children, who typically receive presents, sweets, or other delicacies, reflecting the communal spirit of giving during the festival.

Feasts and Special Foods

Festive meals are a cornerstone of Christmas in Greenland, with families coming together to enjoy special dishes.

Traditional foods often include lamb, pork, reindeer and whale meat. Cakes and other sweet treats are also an important part of the Christmas feast, symbolizing joy and celebration.

Family Traditions and Children’s Activities

Christmas is family-centric, with children playing an active role in the festivities.

They traditionally sing carols outside homes, a gesture rewarded with sweets, enhancing the merriment.

Families also play games, imbuing the holiday with laughter and play, strengthening family bonds.

Nature and Wildlife of the Christmas Season

Snow-covered landscape with polar bears, reindeer, and arctic foxes. Northern lights shimmering in the sky above a traditional Greenlandic Christmas tree

Greenland’s Christmas is entwined with the region’s unique nature and wildlife in the deep Arctic winter, creating a festive season unlike any other.

From decorations inspired by local flora and fauna to the natural phenomena that light up the sky, these elements are central to the Greenlandic Christmas experience.

Arctic Flora and Fauna Decorations

Decorations in Greenland often feature arctic flora and fauna motifs such as ptarmigan and heather.

The Greenlanders incorporate images of these resilient plants and animals into their Christmas décor, embracing the natural world even as the nights grow long and dark.

Berries and Heather add a touch of vivid colour to the white landscape, and both are common in traditional Greenlandic Christmas decoration themes.

Significance of Reindeer in Greenlandic Christmas

The reindeer is a prominent figure in Greenland during Christmas.

It is crucial for its role in local myths and tales synonymous with the season and for its practical uses.

Reindeer hides are used to make white anoraks, a traditional attire that provides warmth during the cold winter months.

Antlers and reindeer imagery will often adorn various decorations, emphasizing their significance in Greenlandic culture.

Northern Lights and Their Christmas Connection

The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, are one of Greenland’s most breathtaking yuletide spectacles.

The shimmering curtains of light dancing across the sky are likened to nature’s Christmas stars during Christmas.

This natural light display brings an otherworldly charm to the Greenlandic Christmas and is a stunning backdrop for festive celebrations.

Post-Christmas Celebrations

Festive lights illuminate snow-covered homes. Families gather around bonfires, exchanging gifts and enjoying traditional Greenlandic food. A sense of joy and community fills the air

After the peak of the Christmas season, excitement in Greenland continues with various traditions, marking the transition from one year to the next, the arrival of the Epiphany, and the enjoyment of the winter landscape through various activities.

New Year’s Customs in Greenland

Greenlanders celebrate New Year’s Eve with enthusiasm. Fireworks light up the sky as the clock strikes midnight, signifying the start of the New Year in Greenland.

Interestingly, they also commemorate the moment New Year’s reaches Denmark at 8:00 PM local time with another set of fireworks, embracing their historical ties with Denmark. These double celebrations unite communities in a spectacle of lights and festivity.

Epiphany and Its Celebration

The Epiphany, occurring on January 6th, closes the extended holiday season. Christian communities in Greenland recognize it as the day the Three Wise Men visited the infant Jesus.

The day is often marked by church services and the singing of Christmas carols, reflecting on the spiritual aspect of the holidays.

End-of-Year Reflections and Traditions

As the year concludes, Greenlanders engage in reflection and community gatherings. Families typically recall the past year’s events and share their aspirations for the year ahead.

Traditional games, often played indoors due to the cold weather, have become a common way for people to bond and celebrate the end of the year together.

Winter Sports and Recreations

The snowy landscape of Greenland presents an ideal backdrop for winter sports and recreational activities post-Christmas.

Locals and tourists alike participate in sledging tours, which traverse the icy terrain. These tours can be a delightful way for individuals to appreciate the stark beauty of Greenland’s winter while engaging in a thrilling and beloved local pastime.

Tourism During the Holiday Season

Snow-covered village with colorful houses, twinkling lights, and a towering Christmas tree. Reindeer-drawn sleighs and excited tourists exploring the winter wonderland

During the festive season in Greenland, visitors can immerse themselves in vibrant Christmas markets, partake in specially curated tours that showcase the country’s holiday spirit, and engage in striking winter activities amidst enchanting views.

Exploring Greenland’s Christmas Markets

Greenland’s Christmas markets are a festive highlight, offering a plethora of handicrafts and ornaments.

Traditionally, local artisans display their work, ranging from intricate beadwork to handmade knits.

Christmas decorations abound, and visitors can purchase authentic Greenlandic crafts, perfect as gifts or souvenirs.

Traveller’s Guide to Greenlandic Christmas

Visitors can embark on a tour during the holiday season that includes cultural insights into the Greenlandic celebration of Christmas.

Such tours may include home visits where the warm glow of an orange Christmas star decorates every window, reflecting a longstanding tradition.

The sight of colourful decorations and the experience of local customs, such as tasting Greenlandic Christmas sweets, offer travellers an intimate peek into the festive season’s charm.

Winter Sightseeing and Activities

Besides cultural experiences, Greenland boasts outdoor activities paired with breathtaking winter landscapes.

Dog sledges offer an authentic means of traversing the snowy expanse, while the possibility of witnessing the mesmerizing Northern Lights can be a highlight for many.

Visitors may also explore the striking ice fjords and glaciers, which take on a special allure under the winter skies.

Christmas Cuisine and Gastronomy

A table adorned with traditional Greenlandic Christmas dishes, including roast muskox, smoked fish, and kiviak (seal meat fermented in a hollowed-out seal carcass). A backdrop of snowy landscapes and northern lights completes the scene

Christmas in Greenland serves as a culinary exploration, blending the traditional tastes of native dishes with imported flavours and festive sweets. This unique gastronomic experience reflects the country’s cultural heritage and the influence of Danish customs.

Traditional Greenlandic Christmas Dishes

Suaasat: A classic Christmas soup made from meat (often lamb, seal, or whale), suaasat is generously seasoned with onions, potatoes, and bay leaves. It’s a staple that warms the soul during the cold holiday season.

Mattak and Kiviak: For the adventurous palate, mattak — whale skin with a strip of blubber — is considered a delicacy known for its chewy texture.

Kiviak, another exotic dish, involves fermenting auks (a type of seabird) in seal skin for several months, creating a pungent and distinctive taste.

Imported Delights and Danish Pastries

Cakes and Pastries: Greenlanders have embraced Danish influences, especially in their sweet treats. Christmas tables often feature a variety of cakes and beloved Danish pastries, satisfying both the eye and the palate.

Christmas Porridge: Often eaten on Christmas Eve, this creamy rice porridge holds a hidden almond, and finding it means receiving a small gift. It’s a delightful blend of tradition and fun, celebrating togetherness.

Drinks and Beverages of Choice

Coffee is a staple in Greenlandic Christmas gatherings, coffee is enjoyed for its warmth and comfort, often accompanying desserts.

It’s not just a beverage but a symbol of hospitality and community.

Locally brewed Christmas beer is another beverage that takes centre stage during the festivities.

It’s typically stronger than regular beer and is enjoyed by adults during holiday meals.

Sweet Treats and Baking Customs

Baking is an integral part of the Christmas tradition in Greenland.

Families make various cakes and cookies, filling homes with delightful scents.

From simple sugar cookies to elaborate layered cakes, the season’s sweetness is captured in every bite.

Apples and candied fruits are often used as decorations, and they also find their way into holiday baking, bringing a festive touch to the Christmas spread.

Gift-Giving and Present Ideas

A festive scene with wrapped presents under a decorated Christmas tree in a cozy living room, with snow falling outside the window

In Greenland, the exchange of gifts during Christmas is a heartfelt tradition that reflects both the cultural heritage and contemporary influences in present selections.

Traditional Inuit Gifts

Inuit customs shape the gift-giving tradition in Greenland, where sealskin products and sledges are considered thoughtful presents.

Sealskin is particularly favoured because of its practicality and the deep connection with Greenland’s hunting culture. These gifts are not just practical; they are imbued with respect for nature, a cornerstone of Inuit tradition.

Modern and Imported Presents

With the influence of globalization, Greenlanders now also enjoy giving and receiving modern and imported gifts.

These can range from the latest electronics to fashionable clothing items. While these presents reflect current global trends, they are often given alongside more traditional gifts, blending the new with the old in Greenland’s Christmas celebrations.

Handmade Crafts and Ornaments

Handcrafted items hold a special place in Greenland’s Christmas traditions.

Locally made crafts, such as ornaments carved from bone or wood, symbolize the skill and artistry of Greenlandic people.

Often featuring motifs from Greenland’s wildlife, such as auks or other native birds, these handcrafted ornaments are cherished for their unique and personal touch.

The Role of Community in Greenlandic Christmas

Snow-covered houses with colorful lights, families gathering around bonfires, and children playing traditional games in the streets

In Greenland, Christmas celebrations are deeply intertwined with community activities that reinforce familial bonds, cultural identity, and the Christian faith, especially during the long polar nights.

Greenlandic Christian Communities

In the Christian communities of Greenland, the church plays a central role during Christmas.

Towns and villages attend church services dedicated to the holiday, where hymns and Christmas carols are sung in Greenlandic and Danish.

The spiritual aspect of the celebrations often reflects a harmonious blend of Inuit traditions and Christian beliefs, leading to unique forms of worship and festivity.

Celebration in Greenlandic Villages

Villages such as Uummannaq and areas like Spraglebugten become hubs of communal festivity.

Villagers often gather for communal feasts, where traditional foods are shared.

Games, music, and dancing are integral to these gatherings, fostering a sense of unity and collective joy among residents of all ages.

Social Bonding and Community Activities

Community activities during Christmas include lighting stars in each village, symbolizing the spread of warmth and joy in the community.

Additionally, children often participate in the St. Lucia parade, adorning wreaths on their heads and holding candles to celebrate the light during the dark winter months.

Traditions in Family Units

In Greenlandic families, Christmas traditions serve as a time for generations to unite and reinforce familial ties.

It is a period marked by the sharing of stories, preparing traditional foods, and playing games passed down through generations, which all strengthen the family unit.

Education and Teaching Traditions

Schools and educational institutions also actively teach and celebrate Greenlandic Christmas traditions. They prepare children for local traditions such as the St. Lucia parade.

They also educate them about the significance of Christmas celebrations in Greenland. This ensures that the unique customs of the community are preserved and respected.

Frequently Asked Questions

A cozy living room decorated with traditional Greenlandic Christmas ornaments and a beautifully adorned Christmas tree

How do they celebrate Christmas in Greenland?

They celebrate Christmas with a strong sense of community and festivity. Town centres often feature a Christmas tree where children gather to sing and dance on the first Sunday of Advent.

What are some unique Christmas traditions in Greenland?

Unique traditions in Greenland include lighting candles on the first Sunday of Advent and displaying red-orange Christmas stars in windows. Another special tradition is “Christmas greetings to Greenland,” a broadcast connecting Greenland with Denmark since 1932.

What is traditionally served for Christmas dinner in Greenland?

Christmas dinner in Greenland typically includes dishes like ‘suaasat.’ This is a soup made with rice, onions, and either seal, whale, reindeer, or seabirds.

What is the Christmas symbol in Greenland?

The red-orange Christmas stars displayed in windows serve as a pervasive Christmas symbol throughout Greenland during the festive period.

What do people wear in Greenland on Christmas?

On Christmas, it is customary for local men in Greenland to wear white anoraks, a traditional festive tunic, and others may opt for additional Greenlandic attire during celebrations.

How do you say ‘Merry Christmas’ in Greenlandic?

“Merry Christmas” in Greenlandic is said as “Juullimi Pilluarit”.

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