Greenlandic National Day

Photo: Mads Pihl

Processions on National Day

It’s Greenland, it’s June 21st and all bets are off. On this day, every town in Greenland stops and celebrates National Day. This is a time to wear your best, sing your heart out, host/attend a Kaffemik and be with the whole community, all together. This day has a full program all over the country.

Origins of National Day

National Day is a bit different from Independence Day as it is celebrated in Iceland only 4 days prior. Although Greenland has Home Rule, which means that it has a considerable amount of self-determination, Greenland holds the status of a parliamentary representative democratic dependency, and the King of Denmark is Head of State.  

Photo: Mads Pihl

Traditional Costumes on National Day

Steps towards independence

Despite being a democratic dependency, Greenland has gone through a series of referenda in which the citizens of Greenland have voted for more autonomy from Denmark, which ruled Greenland fully from the mid 18th century through to 1979.

Home Rule Referendum of 1979

In the Greenland Home Rule Referendum of 1979, the population voted 70/30 in favour, granting Greenland Home Rule. Greenland National Day started in 1983, in part related t the Home Rule agreement. National Day is a celebration of Greenlandic culture and it’s people, and an expression of national identity. This was the dawn of a new era of self-government fro Greenland. So, on this day you will get everything that is quintessentially Greenlandic, in honour of their new autonomy. 

Self-government referendum of 2008

Building on the Home Rule referendum, Greenland brought forward the self-government referendum of 2008, with a similar level of turnout. This expanded home rule to 30 more areas, including the coast guard, police and the courts. The referendum also makes Greenlandic the official language, replacing Danish.

Why June 21st for National Day?

The best way to explain why this date was chosen is that June 21st is the longest day of the year, no matter which region of the country you are in. In many regions, people will enjoy the ever-lasting light of the Midnight Sun right the way through to the next day!

Photo: Mads Pihl

Processions and Batons on National Day

What happens on Greenlandic National Day?

It starts with a massive gathering: thousands of people from all over the country gather in the centre of Nuuk (although this is celebrated in every single town in Greenland). Flags everywhere,  the crows swells, the marching bands lead the main procession, and spectators gradually join in all the fun until they are one and the same! Some people split off for religious proceedings, while most people gather at City Hall. Political leaders give speeches in Danish and Greenlandic and a choir sings festive songs. Then, the municipality lays out coffee, tea, bread, cheese and butter for everyone; it’s an event full of merriment and cheer. 

Photo: Mads Pihl

A kayaker from Sisimiut in Greenland rolling his traditional kayak

There is also large-scale seal hunt in some places; seal is hunted, prepared, gilled and eaten on-site and in real-time. There is live music in the street, people break out into dance and stay out all night (or do we mean day?) long. You will also see many examples of the Greenlandic National Costume, an incredible, technicolor ensemble which remains popular to this day. 

A essential cultural experience

Although it is very recent, Greenlandic National Day has now become an important event,  indeed a tradition in the Greenlandic cultural calendar. Combined with the Midnight Sun, you’re in for a full Greenlandic experience. If you can’t make it over for National Day but still want to experience Greenlandic culture, try Ice and the Inuit and make sure you visit an Inuit village and spend some time there getting to know the locals. 

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