Christmas in Greenland

The end of the year is special for countless cultures and peoples around the world – all our positive energy and the things that bring us together throughout the year, make the month of December miraculous!  From Saint Nicholas Day and Christmas, to St. Lucia Day, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Boxing Day, Omisoka and many others, families and loved ones look forward to gathering at this time of year to celebrate.

This year, the challenges we’re facing will no doubt impact on our festivities, but we will surely find creative ways to be with our loved ones, virtually or in person.

Arctic Christmas  

Who doesn’t dream of a White Christmas? The origin of our gems, Greenland, is one of the 160 countries that celebrates Christmas while also having the advantage of being a snowy wonderland with long nights and Northern Lights. Winter brings little daylight to Greenland, but there’s plenty of holiday cheer and heartwarming traditions to go ‘round, despite the cold and darkness. Today’s festive Christmas celebrations are a combination of European traditions and unique Greenlandic customs, making up a great mix of northern European folklore and Innuit rituals. From the Christmas Tree to carols and food, December in Greenland is a warm, joyous and welcoming time!

Because there are so few trees in Greenland, most Christmas Trees are imported from Denmark, the country’s long-time friend and neighbor. Traditionally, family and loved ones decorate the tree together on December 23rd, adorning it with candles, bright ornaments and small sealskin breeches known as ‘kamiks’. Villages around the country put up large Christmas Trees on nearby hills so everyone can enjoy them.

As in many other European countries, kids in Greenland go from house to house, singing songs of the season in exchange for sweets and other delicacies. Set on a known melody with Greenlandic lyrics, some of the most popular carols include Guuterput, Aarlorfingisavat, Juullimi Pilluaritsi.

Church is an integral part of the Christmas Season for most Greenlandic people, attending services on Christmas Eve, some dressed in national costume – men wear white anoraks for special occasions. After service, families return home to exchange gifts and enjoy a warm meal around the lit Christmas Tree. Speaking of food and good company, Greenlanders have a special menu for the holidays; you will find seal, whale, lamb and reindeer meat, as well as dishes like ‘Mattak’ (whale skin with a strip of blubber inside) and ‘Kiviak’, a dish made from auks (small arctic birds) that are put in a seal skin and buried underground until fermented, on offer. It’s traditional for the men to look after the women and serve the food and drinks on this festive day. (We particularly like this tradition!)

For many Greenlandic people, Christmas is also a day of remembrance, as they light candles in cemeteries to celebrate the lives of past family and friends.

A red star hanging from someone's porch
Credit: Ultima Thule

Star of Greenland 

Each culture puts its own touch on the customs and traditions around this time of year, and Greenland is no exception. A popular decoration is an illuminated orange star placed in the windows of homes and public buildings. Brought to Greenland by Christian missionaries around the 18th century, today families gather together to light up the stars that shine bright orange and yellow hues in the dark arctic days and nights.

Is Santa Claus from Greenland?

He used to be!  Many years ago, kids around the world would send letters to Santa, who’s workshop was believed to be in Greenland. The capital city of Nuuk even had a giant red mailbox that would collect kid’s mail-in wishes. It seems though that old Santa Claus moved to Finland, and has since settled in Korvatunturi, Lapland, where he’s probably tinkering away with his elves getting ready for Christmas Eve!

This elusive character of Christmas has many identities and is called ‘Juulimaaq’ in Greenlandic and ‘Julemanden’ in Denmark. As these are two main languages spoken on the biggest island on Earth, Merry Christmas in Greenlandic it’s ‘Juullimi Pilluarit’ and ‘Glaedelig Jul’ in Danish.

In Greenland, Christmas lasts until Epiphany on January 6th, when people take down the decorations and Christmas Trees to start a new year together.

Santa Claus standing in front of a large red mailbox
Credit: Jane Joensen via Pinterest

2020 has been a difficult and unpredictable year for us all, but we’ve been busy finding new and innovative solutions to the challenges that came our way and are excited for the new year. From our teams in Greenland, Thailand, Norway, France and the United States, we wish you all a wonderful Holiday Season and look forward to making 2021 the year of Great Global Love! Enjoy the upcoming celebrations safely and JUULLIMI PILLUARIT!

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