Since it’s that time of the year again, I thought it fitting to share three Christmas / New Year traditions from Greenland that I can’t say I’ve ever heard of before. I didn’t believe the first tradition at all, but apparently it’s true. The jist of all these stories I retell below is to my knowledge true (but of course embellished since I only know parts of the story).
Shooting for gifts
Many years ago, a man and his family spent their first Christmas and New Years in Tasiilaq in East Greenland. It was a snowy 31st of December when they were busily preparing for a party at their place. On this day, there was a ‘tap tap tap’ from outside. The man opened the door, and a girl came in, not necessarily someone they knew. She took a good look around the living room, and pointed at a vase standing on the table saying, “I shoot at this!”
Apparently, on this special day of the year one can go into different homes and ‘shoot at something’. The guest is only allowed to shoot at one thing. Tradition has it that the host cannot say no to the request and must gift the item. Even beloved red jackets can be ‘shot at’ and given away. I’m not sure if there is a limit to how large or valuable the item can be, but the man avoided this tradition for many years after by setting a cross on the front door (kind of like the passover). Apparently this tradition also occurs in different parts of Greenland.
Real shooting gifts… and soap
In the tiny settlement of Illorsuit not far from Uummannaq in North Greenland, another type of Christmas giving tradition is upheld. At least, a couple of years ago, when a friend of mine used to live there. Illorsuit is a quiet and notoriously remote community of around 100 people, as it is only possible to reach there by helicopters, boats or over the ice. So when one runs out of supplies when living in this place it may be a matter of waiting for a few weeks or months for the next delivery.
This woman went to the local store one day during December when she had run out of detergent. Unfortunately, the shop also did not have any left to sell… and as outlined above, you can see why that’s a serious problem. She made do by loaning some detergent from her neighbour.
Jumping a few days ahead to Christmas, this woman received presents from many of the residents to her surprise. Coming from a larger town, she did know that she was supposed to give or receive gifts to the entire community. They are very practical gifts, though. Women receive detergent for cleaning and men receive bullets for hunting! Because that’s how they do it in Illorsuit…. I don’t know if this tradition still continues, but I’m curious to find out if there is still this division of gifts!
Paying respect to your ancestors
Christmas Eve, the 24th December, is an important day in Greenland. Like the rest of Scandinavia people celebrate in the evening with food and good company. They might even go to a church service.
One thing I found interesting is that it is also very normal for Greenlanders to go to graveyards on Christmas Day and pay their respect to their ancestors who have passed away. This would be unheard of in Australia, but it is also nice to have this day to remember loved ones, hey?
So, Merry Christmas to everyone out there. I hope that you get to spend time with your loved ones… and give and receive meaningful gifts. And if you get soap, I hope it smells nice!