Photo: Kim Ries Jensen/Shutterstock

6 Ways You Spend the Holidays in Greenland

Greenland Student Work Entertainment
by Tina Egede Dec 23, 2015
1. You fill up on three different kinds of reindeer meat — cooked, smoked, and dried.

Just like everyone else, we eat a lot during the holidays. But our food is traditional Greenlandic — smoked, dried, and cooked fish, reindeer meat, whale meat, whale skin cut into small pieces, fish liver smashed with blackberries and shrimp, then the typical ice cream and cake for dessert.

2. You play every traditional New Year’s Eve card game.

We pass the time until midnight with games like paaterluni, which is the most popular. You have to play in a circle. You pass one card to your left until you collect all four suits, then you grab a nut off the table. There’s always one less nut than there are players. As a reward, the winner gets to paint a single line on the loser’s face. We play until there’s no more room on someone’s face to paint another line.

3. You purchase enough fireworks to ring in New Year’s twice — 8pm and midnight.

Greenland is part of Denmark’s government, so when the clock hits midnight in Denmark and 8pm here in Greenland, we shoot off a round of fireworks. Then the big show happens at our midnight; the fireworks are known to last more than two hours.Everyone who is over 18 buys at least one or two kinds and sets them off in the city. The whole sky is filled with colors for hours on end.

4. You Celebrate “Little Christmas” as well as “Main Christmas” and “Elders’ Christmas.”

Our Christmas day is actually the 24th. We call it “Little Christmas” or “Children’s Christmas.” For as long as I can remember, Little Christmas is the biggest day for gathering with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. My family does breakfast with my mother’s family, where we open our first presents. And then we go to my father’s family to have dinner. We spend the night dancing around the Christmas tree and singing hymns. Then we still have two more days of celebration — the 25th is “Main Christmas” and the 26th is “Elders’ Christmas.” Elders’ Christmas is the calm and quiet day. After two days of eating and going back and forth to our family houses, this is our day to relax. Then in the evening, we go door-to-door to our grandmother’s, great-aunt’s, and other elder members of the community, and sing hymns for them.

5. You watch Santa land by helicopter.

We have the absolute pleasure of having the real Santa Claus living here in our country. He’s from Greenland after all. And on the 24th of December, Santa comes to the capital in style, and by style, I mean he comes by helicopter and lands in front of the hospital. Children come from all over the country to see him and receive presents of candies, cookies, and fruits.

6. You dress up in reindeer and seal fur on January 6.

It’s the day of the three kings, so we cover ourselves and paint our faces so we’re completely disguised. Then we knock on people’s doors and dance for them. They have to guess who we are and give us a treat. If you do a good enough job (and only go to strangers’ houses) your identity will never be revealed. 

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