"Waking up at what would have been the crack of dawn, had the near-midnight sun not been high in the sky on the longest day of the year".

July 4—a day when my family would don red, white and blue to barbeque and watch fireworks, reflecting on the history of our country. On June 21, 2012 I had the unique opportunity to experience firsthand Greenland’s National Day, with traditions reflecting a culture so widely different from my own.

Waking up at what would have been the crack of dawn, had the near-midnight sun not been high in the sky on the longest day of the year, I proceeded from my flat to the town center in Nuuk, the capital city of Greenland.

Along the roadside people were flooding to the bus stops and piling into cars of those passing that they recognized, shifting gradually towards a clearing in the center where thousands of people had gathered. Along the roadways into town people had draped Greenlandic and Danish flags over their windows, creating a sea of red and white.

"Along the roadways into town people had draped Greenlandic and Danish flags over their windows, creating a sea of red and white."

"Eventually the beautiful costumes of colorful glass beads and sealskin began to mix in with people wearing more modern clothing."

Procession, costumes and waving flags

A small band began to play and lead a procession from the clearing down the main street to the harbor, followed first by people in national costumes from both the east coast and west coast. Eventually the beautiful costumes of colorful glass beads and sealskin began to mix in with people wearing more modern clothing while holding and waving flags, cheering as they followed the music downhill, and those who had been along the sides of the road watching the initial procession joined in at the end.

Once the group reached Colonial Harbor it fanned out around the podium where the political leaders gave speeches in Danish and Greenlandic and a choir sang festive songs. Despite understanding very little Danish and no Greenlandic, the atmosphere was comfortable and welcoming and I didn’t for one moment feel out of place being a foreigner in the festivities.

After the choir finished singing and the canons were fired, scaring the wits out of everyone waiting in the crowd (and the few kayakers who had decided they would get a better view from the water looked as though they were about to leap into the ocean themselves), the crowd started winding back up the road towards town.

A good sized group split off at the church for religious proceedings while the majority walked back up to City Hall. The municipality had set up tables and chairs with people manning tables with coffee, tea, bread, cheese, and butter for everyone. People walked all about eating breakfast and shaking strangers’ hands with a sturdy ‘Congratulations’, from the heart.

"A good sized group split off at the church for religious proceedings while the majority walked back up to City Hall."

"Once the game ended I followed the sound of cheerful music to a nearby crossroads."

Soccer and dancing


While people began to wander to the open museums and to various Kaffemiks and events, I noticed a giant crowd surrounding the field near the City Hall. As I got closer I realized it was a football (soccer) match between two older teams—a local team and the Alzheimer’s Society, being cheered on every time a pass was completed or a person ran ahead by onlookers sitting on buildings and structures around the field. Once the game ended I followed the sound of cheerful music to a nearby crossroads where local musicians played guitar for people dancing in the street under the summer sun, and followed the scents and sounds to different shows and events as the warm day floated by.

It was that evening after sitting on a bench watching friends meander back to their own homes and fireworks being lit off over the water that I reflected on how a country known first and foremost for being so cold could have a culture and atmosphere so warm and welcoming—and how lucky I was to experience it firsthand.