All About a Greenlandic Christmas


The Greenlandic Christmas Star

Christmas traditions are remarkable around the world for their great variance, and Greenland is no exception. To get to the bottom of it all, I spoke to Josepha and Karl, two of the in-house Greenlanders here at the office and they told me all about how Greenland does  Christmas. Here is what they had to say:

By Joseph Hall, Content Creator at Greenland Adventures. 

When is Christmas celebrated in Greenland?

Christmas in Greenland is usually celebrated on December 24th in the evening and on the 25th during the day. The 26th is also considered a Christmas day.

I remember once or maybe several times, […] after dinner and everyone had had dessert, they would gather around the whole family and my grandparents would begin to tell ghost stories. They would gather around, and everybody would be very scared.


Josepha having Christmas dinner with her family

What’s all this about screaming for Santa?

Josepha: Well, you sing for Santa Claus: “little Santa Claus, come in, open up your  bag and sit under the tree and the children will dance around you” when you are at home dancing around the tree, but you can also sing it in Kindergarten.

Karl: This also happens at the Christmas tree in the centre of town on the first advent, the first Sunday of December. At 16:00 all around Greenland, the children dance around the Christmas tree. They sing the first time, and then it’s never loud enough, and then the second time and the third time. It gets to the point where the children are literally screaming at the top of their lungs, THEN AND ONLY THEN does Santa come out to deliver presents, usually candy. He arrives by helicopter.


Children Rushing to Santa, Who Arrives by Helicopter

What is the one thing that all Greenlanders do at Christmas?

Josepha: well, I would say definitely the orange Christmas Star, this has become the Greenlandic Christmas Star. It was even on the National Christmas Show, lots of them stuck against on the wall. This is a very Greenlandic thing, and it doesn’t matter where you come from in Greenland, the star will be there. It was a child that made it I think. 

Karl: Other than that, I think that on one of the Christmas days, either the 24th, 25th or 26th, you eat at another family member’s home, at least for my part. It depends on where your family members are: mine are in the same town, and one of them will invite us over. 


The Greenlandic Christmas Star

How has Denmark influenced Christmas in Greenland?

Josepha: the Christmas Show was, historically, been a message from Denmark to Greenland before the internet, it served as the yearly direct connection for the Danes that were in Greenland so it would be the Danes greeting their loved ones. Over time, there were a lot of Greenlanders living in Denmark, and now it’s become more of a Greenlandic thing. 

Is there any traditional Greenlandic food eaten at Christmas?

Josepha: I think it’s a Danish influence, but with Greenlandic ingredients. So for example, Reindeer with potatoes and brown sauce, so it’s still a mix of Denmark with the potatoes and brown sauce, but with a touch of Greenland.

Karl: for me, lamb has actually been Greenlandic. Even the emblem of South Greenland is a Ram.

What about the Inuit influence?

Josepha: you have to have in mind that Greenland has been colonised and the traditions that we have are no longer native from Greenland. A lot of the religion and the traditions were washed away when we were colonised. So we don’t have a lot of naive traditions that we hold on to from the Greenlandic faith, and a lot of the things that we do have been re-invented. For example, the mask dance was re-invented in the 1970s by a theatre group, because it had been forgotten. What we have is Danish, but with our own input.


Greenlandic winter sunset

What’s the weirdest thing that happens in Greenland over Christmas?

Karl: I remember once or maybe several times, not on the 24th but on the other days after dinner and everyone had had dessert, they would gather around the whole family and my grandparents would begin to tell ghost stories. They would gather around, and everybody would be very scared, and with goosebumps and stuff. For some reason my family does that often when they get together. It spices up the evening, gets things interesting.

Josepha: I’m not sure about over Christmas time, but telling ghost stories is VERY Greenlandic. Until recently, I actually believed in ghosts. At least, I’m not as scared of them as I used to be. We have been told our whole lives about ghosts.

What would you say is the most important Greenlandic tradition?

Josepha: Oh yes that’s easy, the Christmas song! So, there is this song at the end of the Christmas Show and  in the church in the morning and they sing it’s about our God and they sing it and some point everyone gets up. 

The tempo of the song is really slow, it is sung very slowly, they sing it and a lot of people start crying I even cried when I saw the show [which in 2016 aired on December 18th, the last Sunday before Christmas]. I saw my mother cry, and she saw her mother cry; once, I asked my mother why she cried, because I couldn’t understand why it was sad and she said it was because she always saw her mother cry. Maybe my grandmother had a special relation to it, I’m not sure why everyone cries to it. 

Karl: it’s not the lyrics so much for me, it’s more the melody. I don’t think I’ll cry.

When do you decorate the Christmas tree?

Josepha: On the 23rd at night. It isn’t even in the house until that day. It is stored somewhere cold, so it stays nice and crisp. I remember that as a child my parents would not decorate until the 23rd, and I remember always being super sad about that. One year, I started (with the other decorations) in November, and they went crazy. So now we compromise, and we begin on December 1st.

Karl: waiting for the day to decorate the Christmas tree has an amazing anticipatory effect. It’s like: OH MY GOD the day is here and we FINALLY get to decorate the tree!

I also heard about singing for Candy?

Josepha: I remember as kid, we used to go singing door-to-door with a big plastic bag, a Christmas hat and sing various Christmas songs. I was very proud of knowing all the words by heart, and not having to have a book. We would sing on neighbors doorsteps and they would give us candy. We would get A LOT of candy.

Karl: yes, it was always a mixture of Christmas hymns that you sing in church and regular Christmas songs. 

Finally, candles on graves

Karl: we go to the cemetery, put candles on graves, as the Icelanders do [read more about Icelandic Christmas traditions, if you are curious]

Josepha: there is a Mass at Church on the 24th at midday, but we kind of stopped doing that when we got older. 

Karl: my mother used to do it and used to be very strict about it, but now she is more loose and not so strict. It became voluntary rather mandatory. Now, maybe I’ll try it again, who knows. 

Well, that just about wraps it up! Getting a cultural insight like this is always fascinating, and the question of how Greenland even spends it’s Christmas didn’t occur to me until recently. If you are curious about experiencing more aspects of Greenlandic culture, Greenland Adventures offers a range of culturally-oriented tours designed to immerse you in some of the ancient traditions of the Inuit culture.

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