A Guide to Greenland Christmas Traditions

Discover the unique Christmas traditions of Greenland with our guide to Greenlandic Christmas celebrations. We’ll explore the historical background of how Inuit traditions and Christian influences have shaped these festive rites. From communal feasts to traditional festive foods, discover the cultural richness of these festive customs and celebrations.

Icelandic Christmas Traditions

Quick Summary

  • Greenlandic Christmas traditions are a unique blend of Inuit and Christian influences.
  • Communal feasts and traditional festive foods play a significant role in Greenlandic Christmas celebrations.
  • The cultural richness of Greenland’s festive customs adds a unique flavor to Christmas celebrations.
  • Greenland’s unique environment has a significant influence on Christmas and New Year celebrations.
  • Understanding the historical background of Greenlandic Christmas helps us appreciate the cultural significance of these festive traditions.

Unique Greenlandic Traditions

Greenland’s Christmas traditions are deeply rooted in a blend of indigenous Inuit customs and Christian influences introduced by European settlers. The ancient Inuit winter solstice celebrations, which revolved around feasting and community gatherings, seamlessly merged with Christian festivities after the arrival of European missionaries in the 18th century.

Drum dancing, which was an integral part of Inuit celebrations, found its place alongside Christian hymns and carols. The tradition of placing stars in windows, a symbol of hope and light in the long polar night, has origins in both Inuit lore and Christian symbolism, representing the Star of Bethlehem.

Over time, as Greenland opened up to more global influences, newer traditions began to weave into the cultural fabric of the country’s Christmas celebrations. The figure of Julemanden, Greenland’s version of Santa Claus, evolved with tales uniquely tailored to the Greenlandic context, such as his arrival by kayak rather than a sleigh.

Additionally, the mischievous Yule Lads, borrowed from Icelandic folklore, became a part of the festive narrative, bringing both merriment and mischief to households. While global trends and commodities have made their way into Greenland’s Christmas celebrations, the essence of community, togetherness, and respect for nature remains at the heart of the season, reflecting the enduring spirit of the Greenlandic people.

Sled races are another popular Christmas tradition in Greenland, where locals compete in high-speed races through the snow and ice. The races are held in various parts of the country, and they attract large crowds of spectators.

Greenlandic sled race

These traditions showcase the rich cultural heritage of Greenland and add a sense of excitement and adventure to the holiday season. It’s an experience you won’t forget!

Decorations and Symbols of Greenlandic Christmas

As you explore the festive traditions of Greenland, you’ll discover a wealth of stunning decorations and symbols that are integral to Christmas celebrations in the region. From stars in windows to unique Christmas tree customs, these adornments are steeped in history and cultural significance.

One of the most iconic decorations that you’ll see in Greenlandic homes during the holiday season is the star in the window. This beautiful addition is a symbol of hope and light during the darkest time of year. The stars come in different shapes and sizes, and are often made from paper or straw. They’re hung in windows all across the country, twinkling brightly against the night sky.

Greenlandic Christmas decorations

Another important decoration that you’ll find in Greenlandic homes during Christmas is the Christmas tree. However, the way that trees are decorated in Greenland is different from the way they’re decorated in many other countries. Rather than using traditional ornaments, many Greenlandic families use natural decorations such as pine cones, twigs, and dried flowers. These adornments create a unique and rustic vibe that perfectly suits the cozy, welcoming atmosphere of Christmas in Greenland.

One of the most interesting Greenlandic Christmas traditions is the lighting of candles on Christmas Eve. In many homes, candles are lit on windowsills and tables, creating a warm and inviting glow. This tradition is rooted in the Inuit practice of using candles to bring light to the darkness during the winter months. It’s also a symbol of Christ’s light coming into the world.

The decorations and symbols of Greenlandic Christmas are truly unique and carry a deep cultural significance. As you explore the festive traditions of Greenland, take the time to appreciate these stunning adornments and the stories and traditions behind them.

Festive Attire in Greenland

One of the most exciting aspects of Christmas in Greenland is the festive attire. Traditional clothing is an important part of the celebrations, and dressing up is a way to show respect for the occasion. Whether you’re attending a family gathering or a community feast, wearing traditional clothes is a must.

In Greenland, traditional festive attire includes fur-lined parkas, sealskin mittens, and boots made from sealskin. Women often wear colorful beaded jewelry and embroidered hats called qaspeq. Men also wear a qaspeq, but it is typically less decorated than the women’s version.

Festive Attire in Greenland

During the Christmas season, it’s common to attend a julefrokost, or Christmas lunch, where you can show off your festive attire. These lunches are a time for eating and drinking together, and they often include local delicacies like ‘Kiviak’ (fermented seabird wrapped in seal skin) and ‘Mattak’ (whale skin with a layer of blubber).

So why not fully immerse yourself in Greenlandic Christmas traditions by donning traditional clothing and attending a julefrokost this year?

Julemanden, the Greenlandic version of Santa Claus

One of the most fascinating aspects of Greenlandic Christmas celebrations is Julemanden, the Greenlandic version of Santa Claus. While Julemanden shares similarities with the Western Santa Claus, there are unique aspects of this beloved figure that set him apart.

One of the most important things to note is that Julemanden is not exclusively a gift-giving figure. In fact, he is often depicted as a holy man who brings joy and goodwill to the community. Children in Greenland may receive gifts from Julemanden, but the focus is more on the festive spirit and the joy of giving than on presents.

Greenlandic Santa Claus

Julemanden is often portrayed as a wise and kind figure who has the ability to bring people together. He is said to travel across Greenland on a sled pulled by reindeer, visiting homes and spreading joy to those he encounters.

There are many interesting stories and traditions associated with Julemanden in Greenland. For example, it is said that he has a special connection with the Northern Lights and that he has the power to make them dance in the sky.

Another fascinating aspect of Julemanden is his relationship with the Yule Lads, a mischievous group of characters who play pranks and cause chaos during the Christmas season. Julemanden is said to keep the Yule Lads in check and to encourage them to be kind and generous to others.

Overall, Julemanden is a beloved figure in Greenlandic Christmas celebrations, representing the joy, kindness, and spirit of togetherness that characterizes this festive season.

The Yule Lads of Greenland

Greenland’s Yule Lads, known as “Julenisse” in the local tongue, have their roots in ancient Norse and Icelandic traditions. Originally, they weren’t tied to Christmas but were mischievous spirits or trolls who would cause trouble around the winter season.

Over the centuries, these figures evolved, especially under the influence of neighboring Icelandic folklore where there are thirteen Yule Lads, each with their own distinct personality and method of mischief. These characters would descend from the mountains in the days leading up to Christmas, each one arriving on a different day, to either reward or play tricks on children, depending on their behavior throughout the year.

Greenland Yule Lads

In modern Greenlandic Christmas celebrations, the Yule Lads have transitioned from their more malevolent origins to become more benevolent, akin to the Western concept of Santa Claus, though retaining their mischievous nature.

Children in Greenland eagerly anticipate their arrival, placing shoes in windows hoping to receive gifts. Well-behaved children might find candies and small presents in their shoes, while those who have been naughty might get a potato or a piece of coal. The Yule Lads serve as a reminder of ancient traditions, blending the old with the new, and adding a unique touch to Greenland’s festive season.

Greenland’s Festive Music

In Greenland, music plays an essential role in Christmas celebrations. Festive music is heard everywhere during the holiday season, from shops and streets to homes and churches. The sounds of traditional Greenlandic instruments like the kissarnerit (drum) and qilaut (panpipe) fill the air, creating a festive atmosphere.

One of the most beloved Christmas traditions in Greenland is caroling. Groups of people, often dressed in traditional clothing, go from house to house singing Greenlandic Christmas songs. These songs are unique to the region and have been passed down through generations. The lyrics talk about joy, love, and gratitude, capturing the spirit of the season.

One of the most popular carols is ‘Arnaq’ (Woman), which tells the story of a woman who prepares for Christmas with joy and excitement. Another favorite is ‘Silent Night’ in Greenlandic, which is sung in churches and homes throughout the country.

Greenlandic carolers

The tradition of caroling in Greenland is about more than just singing. It’s a way for people to come together and share in the festive spirit. People offer warm drinks and treats to carolers and invite them inside to warm up by the fire. It’s a time for connection and community.

Whether you’re participating in a caroling group or just listening to festive music at home, the sounds of Christmas in Greenland are sure to lift your spirits and fill you with joy.

Traditional Festive Foods in Greenland

One of the most exciting aspects of Greenlandic Christmas celebrations is the delicious traditional festive foods. These dishes are deeply rooted in the culture and history of Greenland, and are an important part of the festive season.

Kiviak is a popular dish made by fermenting seabirds inside a seal skin. This dish is an acquired taste, but is highly coveted among Greenlanders. Mattak is another delicacy, made from whale skin with a layer of blubber that is cut into small cubes and served raw.

Importantly, communal feasts are a key part of the Christmas celebrations in Greenland. These feasts are a time for families and friends to come together and share food and stories, further strengthening the bond between them.

Traditional Festive Foods in Greenland

During Christmas in Greenland, tables are filled with scrumptious festive foods, including fish, whale meat, lamb, pork, and reindeer, and an interesting blend of foreign cuisine that has been adopted over the years. Staple side dishes include potatoes and turnips, and a variety of bread and cheese.

Main dishesSide dishes
Smoked and salted fishPotatoes and turnips
Whale meatBread and cheese
LambGreenlandic berries

Make sure to try the traditional festive foods on your visit to Greenland and experience the importance of communal feasts in strengthening ties with the community.

Christmas Activities and Games in Greenland

Christmas in Greenland is a time of festive activities and games that are cherished by both children and adults alike. Traditional games like “Kamik” and “Aqiaqtaq” are played during this time of the year, providing fun and entertainment for the entire family. Kids enjoy building snowmen or playing with toys, while adults participate in more challenging games that demand skill and strategy.

One unique activity that you can witness during Christmas in Greenland is the Christmas kayaking event. Kayaks are an important mode of transportation in Greenland, and during the festive season, locals come together to celebrate by racing their kayaks in the icy waters. This breathtaking event showcases the beauty of Greenland’s natural environment and its close connection to the community’s way of life.

Christmas kayaking event in Greenland

The Christmas season in Greenland is not just about having fun and games, but also about coming together as a community and celebrating the togetherness that the festive period brings. Communal feasts and other gatherings are arranged during the Christmas period to embrace familial and communal ties, and to share the joy and warmth that the season brings.

Whether you are a tourist or a local, there is no shortage of activities and games to enjoy during Christmas in Greenland. From traditional games to adventurous kayaking events, there is something for everyone to enjoy. So, put on your warmest clothes, grab your friends and family, and join the fun and games that make the festive season in Greenland so special.

Church and Spiritual Traditions in Greenland

Greenland’s Christmas celebrations are not only a time for feasting, family, and fun, but also a time of spiritual reflection and worship. Churches have played a significant role in the Christianization of the Inuit population, and Christmas Eve services are still an important part of the holiday season.

The blending of indigenous beliefs with Christian traditions has resulted in unique practices that are celebrated during the festive period. Christmas Eve services, for instance, feature traditional Inuit drum dancing, which adds a touch of culture to the religious observances. The use of traditional clothing during these services also serves to reinforce Greenland’s cultural heritage and bring people together.

“The blending of indigenous beliefs with Christian traditions has resulted in unique practices that are celebrated during the festive period.”

This blending of beliefs is an important part of Greenland’s Christmas celebrations. It recognizes the country’s complex history and acknowledges the influence of both indigenous and Christian cultures. In many ways, Greenland’s Christmas traditions represent the country’s ongoing efforts to connect modern life with its rich history and cultural heritage.

church in Greenland during Christmas Eve service

Churches also play an important role in bringing communities together during the festive period. Communal feasts, held in church halls or community centers, provide opportunities for people to come together and share in the joy of the season. These feasts often feature traditional foods, such as ‘Kiviak’ and ‘Mattak’, reinforcing the relationship between Greenland’s cultural heritage and its spiritual traditions.

Overall, the spiritual and communal aspects of Greenland’s Christmas celebrations are an essential component of the festive period. They provide opportunities for reflection, community building, and cultural expression, demonstrating the richness and diversity of Greenland’s history and traditions.

As you immerse yourself in Greenlandic Christmas traditions, take time to appreciate the warmth and togetherness that permeates the festive season. Whether you are celebrating with family or friends, or participating in community-wide events, the spirit of Christmas in Greenland is sure to leave a lasting impression.

New Year Celebrations and Environmental Influence

As the Christmas festivities wind down, the people of Greenland turn their attention to ringing in the New Year. The celebrations here are often marked by spectacular fireworks displays that light up the night sky and create a sense of wonder and excitement.

However, it’s worth noting that the environmental influence on these celebrations cannot be ignored. With Greenland’s unique environment, including the polar day and polar night, the people have to adapt to the conditions in which they live. As such, the fireworks displays are usually held during the daytime, when there is limited daylight, making it more visible to all.

Moreover, the people of Greenland are mindful of the impact of fireworks on the environment. While the use of fireworks is an integral part of the New Year celebrations, the authorities impose strict regulations on their use to minimize environmental damage.

Despite these regulations, the New Year celebrations are still a source of great excitement and joy for the people of Greenland. As the clock strikes midnight, you’ll find people huddled together, cheering and hugging, as they welcome the new year with open arms, filled with hope and optimism.


What are some traditional festive foods in Greenland?

Traditional festive foods in Greenland include ‘Kiviak’ (fermented seabird wrapped in seal skin) and ‘Mattak’ (whale skin with a layer of blubber).

What are some decorations and symbols of Greenlandic Christmas?

Greenlandic Christmas traditions include placing stars in windows and unique customs associated with Greenlandic Christmas trees.

What is the significance of festive attire in Greenland?

Festive attire is an important part of Christmas celebrations in Greenland, reflecting the cultural significance of dressing up and the importance of ‘julefrokost’ (Christmas lunch).

Who is Julemanden and what role does he play in Greenlandic Christmas?

Julemanden is the Greenlandic version of Santa Claus, and he has his own unique stories and traditions that are celebrated during Christmas.

What are some traditional Christmas activities and games in Greenland?

In Greenland, traditional games and activities are enjoyed during the festive season, including Christmas kayaking events and other games played by children and adults.

What are some church and spiritual traditions observed in Greenland during Christmas?

Christmas Eve services and other religious observances are an important part of Christmas celebrations in Greenland, which blend indigenous beliefs with Christian traditions.

What is the significance of community and family gatherings in Greenland’s Christmas celebrations?

Community feasts and family reunions are important aspects of Christmas in Greenland, reflecting the spirit of togetherness and the sense of belonging during the festive season.

What are some unique Greenlandic traditions during Christmas?

Greenland’s Christmas celebrations involve unique traditions such as the mischievous Yule Lads, traditional drum dancing, and exhilarating sled races.

How are New Year celebrations influenced by Greenland’s environment?

New Year celebrations in Greenland take into account the unique environment, including the polar day and polar night, and may include fireworks and other festivities.