Photographs: Visit Greenland
Text: Heather Storgaard
On what day do you celebrate Christmas? In fact, what time of day? Possibly to support Santa keeping to schedule, different European nations celebrate Christmas at different times. Germanic and Slavic Europe, from Switzerland in the South, Iceland in the West, Finland and Estonia in the East, celebrate Christmas on the evening of the 24th. In Southern and Western Europe, however, from Spain in the South to the UK in the North, Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December. We also can't seem to agree much on where Santa Claus is travelling from: it must be cold there, but is it Finland, the North Pole or Greenland? And how about names? Father Christmas, Saint Nick, Santa Claus or the Christmas Man, as the Danish name helpfully and literally translates to, has many worldwide and probably even more unique traditions. But in Denmark, he is the Juleman, Christmas Man, and comes from Greenland.
The first Danish-written mention of Santa Claus comes from 1898 when author Louis Moe wrote, "Santa Claus lives so far north that even the Norwegian hero and polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen has never laid eyes upon the smoke from his chimney." Later, however, this idea of living somewhere vague in the north turned into Greenland, the world's largest island and one of the three nations to make up the Kingdom of Denmark. A Santa Claus from Greenland has since been depicted on the Danish TV success Julekalendar, the children's show characterising Christmas to many Danish families, firmly cementing it in the Danish Christmas tradition.
"Despite the widespread belief throughout the Kingdom of Denmark that Santa Claus lives in Greenland, attempts to create tourism based on the concept, similar to Finnish Lapland, have failed so far."
Despite the widespread belief throughout the Kingdom of Denmark that Santa Claus lives in Greenland, attempts to create tourism based on the concept, similar to Finnish Lapland, have failed so far. Nuuk is situated over 3,500 km from Copenhagen, taking approximately 5 hours to fly to from Denmark and coming at considerable expense. Previously, the world's largest post-box was situated in Greenland for the Greenlandic Christmas Man to receive post. However, this proved to be a logistical and financial challenge for the local council responsible for answering the letters, and it was shut in the mid-2010s. While the idea could resurface, Greenland's tourism organisations focus more on cultural and adventure trips.
Greenlanders at Christmas
Still, for those living in Greenland, Santa Claus visits Nuuk on the 24th of December, travelling from his home of Uummannaq (or Nissebyen, depending on who you ask) by helicopter. Upon arriving at the Greenlandic capital, he throws sweets and boiled toffies to the gathered families below, who have eagerly awaited him in the cold, dark Greenlandic winter. This Greenlandic Christmas Man is a far cry from the Father Christmas who turns up on a speedboat to Bondi Beach on the morning of the 25th in the Australian variant of Anglo-American Christmas. While the Greenlandic winter is undoubtedly cold and dark, the Northern Lights and Santa are there to brighten it!