Christmas in Greenland

In the villages of Polar Inuits, families like to visit each other and have parties. They drink coffee and eat cakes and exchange brightly wrapped parcels. Traditional presents are model sledges, a pairs of polished walrus tusks, or sealskin mitts. Everyone in the village gets a gift and children go from house to house, singing songs.

On Christmas Eve, Church Services are held and most people go to them, many in national costume. Some men wear the white anoraks which are worn on special occasions.

Christmas Trees have to be imported, because no trees grow as far north as Greenland. The trees are often imported from Denmark - Greenland has had a long historical connection with Denmark. The trees are decorated with candles, bright ornaments and sometimes small versions of sealskin breeches known as kamiks. Trees are traditionally decorated on the evening of 23rd December. People who don't use an imported tree, might have a traditional driftwood tree decorated with heather.

Another traditional and popular decoration is to put an illuminated star in windows. There are stars in most homes and in all public buildings. Because Greenland is so far north, and within the Arctic Circle, during the winter the sun never rises! (You might get a brief glimpse over the southern mountains, but that's it!) So the stars help to bring some light. The tradition of hanging stars came with Christian missionaries from the Moravian church. The stars are sometimes called 'poinsettia stars' as they look a bit like poinsettia flowers.

Villages also put a large Christmas Tree on a nearby hill, so everyone can see it. These trees are put up and decorated ready for the start of Advent.

St Lucia's day (December 13th) is also celebrated in Greenland.

There are some rather unusual foods eaten at Christmas time in Greenland. 'Mattak' is whale skin with a strip of blubber inside. It is supposed to taste like fresh coconut, but is often too tough to chew and is usually swallowed. Another Christmas food is 'kiviak'. This is the raw flesh of little auks (a type of arctic bird) which have been buried whole in sealskin for several months until they have reached an advanced stage of decomposition! Although it sounds strange, it is a delicacy in Greenland.

Other popular foods in Greenland include 'suaasat' which is a soup/stew, barbecued caribou/reindeer, lamb, razorbill, ptarmigan and fish either as raw sushi or cooked. Popular desserts are berries and apples with a crisp Topping and special Christmas porridge that's served with butter and topped with sugar and cinnamon. Lots of Danish pastries and Christmas cookies are also eaten!

It is traditional on Christmas night that the men look after the women, serving their food and coffee and stirring the meal for them. Games follow the Christmas meal, including one in which an object is passed from hand to hand round a long table under the cloth. It is supposed to be repulsive: round, clammy and rough in texture; such as a frozen egg, wrapped in strips of wet fox fur!

Like in Finland and other nordic countries, lighting candles in cemeteries is sometimes done on Christmas Eve to remember family and friends.

In Greenland there are two main languages spoken, Inuit/Greenlandic and Danish. In Greenlandic, Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Juullimi Pilluarit'; in Danish it is 'Glædelig Jul'. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.

Greenland also claims to be the place where Santa Claus lives or at least goes for his summer holidays! He is said to have a home in the north of the country in Spraglebugten, near the town of Uummannaq!

Nuuk Tourist office
A large post box in the town on Nuuk, via Wikimedia Commons

New Year's Eve is celebrated twice in Greenland! At 8.00pm, they celebrate that the new year has reached Denmark and at midnight it's the new year in Greenland! At both celebrations, people like to let off lots of fireworks and rockets!