Greenland’s most important national holiday, National Day, just happens to fall on June 21, the longest and sunniest day of the year. However, the people of this vast country find reasons to celebrate even during the dead of weather. In fact, Greenland rings in the New Year twice– once at 8:00 p.m. when the clock strikes midnight on Denmark, and again when Greenland’s own clocks reach midnight. The area also hosts unique sporting events like the Arctic Palerfik dogsled excursion and the Greenland Adventure Race, the territory’s answer to pacific Hawaii’s Ironman.
Return of the Sun
January’s return of the sun after several weeks or months of constant darkness is a major cause for celebration in Greenland. Although the exact day varies throughout the country, each local community celebrates the occasion with plenty of coffee, sweets, music, and special family togetherness. Ilulissat families and schoolchildren drive dogsleds to Holms Hill, known as Seqinniarfik in Greenlandic, and sing songs to greet the returning sun.
Nuuk Snow Festival
Since 1994, Greenland’s capital has hosted this annual snow sculpture competition every February or March, depending on weather conditions. The world’s finest snow artists can only use traditional non-powered tools to sculpt their creations. Up to four people can work on a single design, which must be completed by a designated deadline. The 2010 Nuuk Snow Festival became an ice sculpting competition after unusually mild winter temperatures forced the past four festivals to be cancelled altogether.
Greenland’s final dog sledding trip of the long winter takes place for three days each April in Ilulissat. Participants follow the same path Knud Rasmussen used as his training grounds before his famous Arctic expeditions. Many sled drivers bring their families on this stunning journey to Ilulissat Icefjord. Sunscreen is a must where the sun not only shines for up to 16 hours a day, but also produces strong snow and ice reflections. In fact, the name “Palerfik” translates to “place where you will get sunburned” in English.
In 1983, Greenland celebrated its first National Day on the year’s longest and sunniest day. Ever since, the summer solstice is welcomed with church services, flag raising, morning songs, and speeches by local officials. Each community has its own local entertainment in the form of folk dancing, music, kayaking displays and traditional Kaffemik events. Special reports from each celebration are broadcast on Greenland’s television station.
Arctic Team Challenge
Every July, East Greenland’s Ammassalik Island hosts this annual five day adventure challenge. All competitors must cycle across roads are of various quality, climb mountains with few defined paths, trek across breathtaking glaciers, and canoe around the Sermilik Icefjord’s icebergs. The entire course is over 155 miles long, contains climbs more than 25,000 feet high and takes place during average summer temperatures between 10°F and 15°F.
Greenland Adventure Race
Southern Greenland’s most outstanding scenery provides the backdrop for this grueling September race sometimes compared to Hawaii’s Ironman triathlon. The five day Greenlandic version starts with 12.5 miles of running and rappelling across a glacier and frozen water, followed by a 31 mile long mountain bike trek. The third leg is a 27 mile long marathon through 3,300 foot tall mountain passes before reaching Narsaq. Competitors must then kayak and carry their boats across the fjords of Qaqortoq before making a 19 mile run to the finish line. Both same-sex and opposite-sex teams can participate in this epic race.
The Polar Circle Marathon
The self-described “coolest marathon on Earth” takes place north of the Arctic Circle towards the end of October and takes approximately 25 percent longer to complete than most marathons due to its challenging icy and hilly terrain. Although most of the run is on a snow covered gravel road, runners must also traverse the actual ice cap near Kangerlussuaq, a thousand year old ice wall. Racers can also take part in a shorter mini-marathon wearing regular running shoes despite chilly temperatures of 15°F.