Photo: Mads Pihl, Visit Greenland

6 Greenlandic Traditions That Will Surprise You

Greenland Culture
by Tina Egede Nov 2, 2017

1. Breathing down each other’s necks to show our love.

The Inuit kiss is not like the “Eskimo kiss” or Kunik, i.e. pressing the tip of one’s nose against another’s. In Greenland, we show our love to each other by “smelling.” One puts her/his face on the other’s cheek or neck and takes a deep inhale while rubbing her/his nose against them.

2. Eating the seal’s lung while it’s still warm.

Seal hunting is prohibited in most areas in the world, but the people of Greenland are still allowed to hunt a certain quota each year. When a hunter comes back to shore with a fresh kill, he will start carving the animal using an ulo knife on the stomach to open the seal up and take out its intestines. But first, he will cut out the lungs bit by bit to share it with those around him and eat it while it’s still warm.

3. We can’t get enough New Year’s celebrations.

In Greenland, we celebrate the New Year twice. Because Greenland was colonized by the Danes and because the time difference between Greenland and Denmark is 4 hours, when the clock hits 12 in Denmark, i.e. 8 PM in Greenland, we celebrate with them. Fireworks, drinking, and hugging: the whole shebang! And then we carry on eating our dinner until our clock hits 12 and we celebrate all over again.

4. Snacking on fermented birds is no big deal.

Raw whale skin is my favorite Greenlandic snack. Although it may sound disgusting to non-Greenlanders, it’s not the weirdest of our traditional foods. Kiviaq or “Auk Bird” is a traditional meal that is not for the faint-hearted. The preparation goes as follows: the cook will put as many whole Kiviaqs as possible in a fresh seal skin with fat and sew it closed while removing air to repel flies. After this is done, it is buried with rocks underground. It will remain underground for three months to ferment. Once it is taken out of the ground and cooked, the smell is strong. The taste is similar to Gorgonzola cheese.

5. Forget rice and confetti, we celebrate with coins.

In Greenland, at celebrations such as weddings, baptisms, or birthdays, there’s almost always someone to yell “Pagaaaaa” and throw a handful of coins at the crowd. It does not take long for everyone to start crawling around and trying to gather as much cash they can.

6. Creeping each other out with myths and legends of Inuit culture.

We are suckers for stories, especially the creepy and scary ones. Before Christianity was introduced, we Greenlanders believed that everything around us had a spirit and we had a shaman who could call upon and speak with them. These spirits would be shaped as animals, humans, or half animal and half human. Our grandparents, aunts, and uncles like to keep us up at night with the stories of the spirits they encountered on their hunting trips.

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