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Christmas traditions in Greenland

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Everybody in Greenland loves Christmas – because of the good food as well as the cozy atmosphere and especially because there are so many lights at the dark time of year.

For many, Christmas and traditions are closely connected. You will find that Greenland is not an exception! Christmas in Greenland always starts with a beloved tradition: In every home in the entire country, they light an orange Christmas star that shines beautifully from the windows. When the Christmas star is lit up, one tradition follows the next until Epiphany on 6th January, when Christmas ends. 

Christmas stars in Greenland give warmth and togetherness

When we have packed away all our Christmas decorations on January 6th, a new chapter starts: We begin looking forward to the new year’s Christmas.

The star of Christmas is a Christian symbol of Jesus’ birth. It gets lit up on the afternoon of the first Sunday in advent. Families are gathered on the afternoon and we light the star together. Maybe we would sing some Christmas carols – one of the beautiful, slow, Greenlandic Christmas carols that spread warmth around the heart.

A typical Christmas star is folded in paper. It is orange and yellow and beams in the most beautiful, golden and orange glow. The star was brought to Greenland by the Christian brotherhood Herrnhutters who came to Greenland in 1733 and were active until about 1900. In fact, many Greenlandic traditions refer to the Herrnhutters, including the Greenlandic literary language.

No Christmas without going to church in Greenland

Christianity still is very important for many Greenlanders. Many of us go to church on all Sundays during advent. Christmas services are considered to be holy. If you want to make sure to get a seat in one of the often very small churches, you ought to be early. Here, we sing the beautiful carols together.

There is also a tradition about leaving a light on the graves on the churchyard. This is not a typical Protestant tradition, but in Greenland it is a very cherished and beautiful custom. You build a small cave in the snow on top of the grave to keep the wind from blowing the fire. It is an incredibly lovely view, when an entire churchyard lights up with the many lights.


Lucia’s parade brings light and gladness to everyone

Lucia’s parade is a cherished custom in all the Nordics and in Greenland, too. Children get dressed in white robes and walk in a parade, while carrying a light in their hands. Lucia walks as the first person in the parade, who, in addition to the light in her hand, also wears a wreath with four lights on her head.

Lucia’s parade is performed at schools and children’s day care institutions. In Greenland, we also walk Lucia at hospitals and elderly people’s homes. In that way, the ones not-so-mobile are able to experience it as well.

Santa Lucia is an old Swedish tradition. In 1928, it got even more promoted, when a newspaper from Stockholm elected the Lucia bride of the year. This tradition came to Denmark when it was occupied by the Germans and since it has come to Greenland.

Read also about Santa Claus.

Christmas tree or a broomstick with green leaves?

The Christmas tree is a very typical symbol of Christmas – also in Greenland, where all trees needed importing and are quite expensive. In earlier days, it was impossible to get Christmas trees in Greenland. That is why people were inventive and made their own.

Use a broomstick (or a big branch) and drill holes at all the strategically correct places. Then, put green leaves in these holes. In that way, you get your own home-made Christmas tree. This is a dying tradition, though. Now, real Christmas trees are quite standard (or the more environmentally friendly ones made of plastic).

On Christmas Eve, the entire family gathers around the tree, sing and dance, before gifts get unwrapped.

Lots of Christmas food and baking in Greenland

The Christmas meal looks a lot like the ones in the rest of Scandinavia. It consists of a main course based on meat and is followed by a dessert called “ris a la mande”, which is a kind of rice pudding. The meat course is usually based on a local specialty like lamb, musk oxen, hare, razorbills, ptarmigan or whale.

In the North of South Greenland, were lamb meat is very rare, reindeer is very popular. Rudolph-supporters might find this inappropriate, but it really tastes very good. Many adhere to the Danish tradition and serve duck or goose. Sides would usually be potatoes, brown sauce, redcurrant jelly and red cabbage.

As in many other countries, Christmas baking is a strong tradition. People wouldn’t say no to a small competition about baking most, biggest or prettiest. Especially crullers (“klejner”) are a very popular Christmas specialty. Greenlanders also bake and eat lots of brownies, Hertz Donuts, vanilla wreaths and honey cakes, though.

Read more about winter in Greenland. 


Christmas carols – at the church, at home and in front of doors

Like in other countries, Greenland has many Christmas carols that are based on a known melody with their own Greenlandic lyrics. Additionally, there are many Christmas songs and carols that are specifically Greenlandic. We sing them at the church and at home by the Christmas tree.

The special thing about Greenlandic songs and carols is the pace they’re sung at. It’s slow and it’s incomprehensibly beautiful. The best-known example is the beautiful carol Guuterput. The song is so meaningful to the Greenlanders that they respectfully get up after the introduction of the song and sing it standing.

On Christmas Eve, when the gifts are unpacked, tradition says that children walk from one house to another and sing Christmas songs in front of the other houses. They receive sweets or other delicacies and then move on to the next house. This is a very cozy tradition.

See more facts about Greenland. 


Christmas greetings to Greenland – the world’s oldest broadcast

”Christmas greetings to Greenland” is the oldest broadcast in the world that still exists. It started as a radio program in 1932 and has been produced as a TV broadcast since 1982.

Greenland and Denmark have some close bonds through their common kingdom. There is import, export, co-operation about social issues and not least ten thousands of contacts between people. Friendships and family relations have emerged between the countries. Many Greenlanders live in Denmark and many Danes in Greenland.

Each year, Danmark’s national TV and radio station celebrates this by broadcasting the beloved program “Christmas greetings to Greenland”. Songs, music and greetings create bridges between the two countries, often represented by Greenland’s best-known singer Julie Berthelsen. It has also become a tradition to end the beautiful Christmas show with the Guuterput carol, which we mentioned above.

Listen to this beautiful christmas song from the programme in 2012:


Christmass feelings with Greenlandic Christmas songs

If you want to listen to more Christmas music from Greenland, you can search for these three Greenlandic Christmas songs out on YouTube:

  • Guuterput
  • Aarlorfingissavat
  • Juullimi Pilluaritsi


Christmas lasts until Epiphany in Greenland

’Christmas lasts right until Easter’ says a Christmas song. But this is maybe a bit of an exaggeration. In Greenland, Christmas lasts until Epiphany, which is half a holiday in Greenland.

On January 6th, shops and other businesses close at lunch time. People spend their afternoons ending Christmas peacefully. They take Christmas decorations off the Christmas tree, pack them in boxes and prepare for next Christmas. The boxes don’t get packed too far away, though. The Christmas star in the window gets to shine one more night. In that way, the star is the first and the last thing that marks Greenlandic Christmas.

Find more trips to Greenland