The Qooqqut Festival in Greenland is truly a remarkable experience for families. Regardless of age, gender, language, or culture, there is something new and unique for everyone at the festival. I was intimidated to attend a festival in Greenland where I didn’t know anyone or speak either of the languages, Greenlandic and Danish, but after watching a YouTube video from Qooqqut Festival 2016, I was mesmerized by the natural beauty and unique cultural experiences offered, and it went on my bucket list. Athena and I just returned from the weekend festival and we have so many experiences to share with you.
We departed Nuuk, Greenland for the Qooqqut Festival on the ship, Sarfaq Ittuk. We found our room and made our way to the gathering area. No one was speaking English and I felt a little overwhelmed at first. Was this a huge mistake? Was I going to spend the weekend feeling isolated and confused?
They were serving cake and coffee so Athena and I picked up the treats and brought them to a table. It only took a few minutes for people to hear me speaking English to Athena and a lady approached us with a smile. She asked where we were from and if it was our first time at Qooqqut Festival. I could feel my anxiety washing away as I talked to her and introduced myself.
Along the route to Qooqqut so many people approached us that I didn’t even leave the table. I didn’t have a change to get up. Everyone welcomed us. Two and a half hours had gone by in the blink of an eye and we knew a bunch of people on the ship.
When we arrived at the festival area, we were taken ashore via smaller transport boats. The majestic mountains surrounded us and the crisp air filled my lungs. It was so fresh that I wanted to take a deep breath like a newborn baby breathing for the first time. We had arrived at Qooqqut Festival.
I was so taken in by the mountains that they alone were worth the long journey. Athena and I climbed the hill toward the festival grounds and she spotted a swing and a slide. She ran with excitement as she asked if she could play on them. I don’t think she really cared about my answer but I said yes anyway. We could hear the music beginning in the tents and although I didn’t understand the language, the sounds were beautiful.
Athena played on the swing and I stood nearby scanning the crowd and taking in the diverse group of people that were there. When new guests arrived, they would smile or say hello as they walked by. Athena said hi to everyone and she’s so adorable that it’s impossible not to smile back.
Friday evening was the calmest part of the festival with most guests attending on Saturday, but we still enjoyed the company of others and listened to the bands play for a couple hours. The weather was cool but refreshing; nothing a warm sweater and a pair of boots couldn’t block out.
We returned to the ship for evening entertainment on board and a light snack before bed. The schedule on Saturday was packed and we wanted to get a good rest.
The first activity on our schedule for Saturday was drum dancing lessons with Nuka Alice Lund. They gave an introduction in Greenlandic and I didn’t understand a thing but a wonderfully sweet, local lady stood next to us and translated everything that was said. We didn’t have to ask her for help or explain anything. She just did it, happily.
She encouraged Athena and laughed along as we shook our butts and banged our drums. We’re not afraid to dance, be silly, and have fun. That’s what we were there to experience.
Athena listened closely and soaked up every moment of it. As the warm morning rays touched her face, there was even more of a light about her. She was glowing with sunshine and radiating happiness. A new overwhelming feeling of joy filled my heart. We were welcomed to experience the cultural of Greenland and drum dancing set the tone for the day.
We went from drum dancing to jewelry making and painting with Ivalo Abelsen and Hanne Bruun. Athena leaned to make a beaded bracelet and I watched a young girl make a stunning bracelet using rope. The host noticed me watching the girl and offered to teach me. It seemed complicated but it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try.
It was actually rather simple and I was proud of the finished product. We originally went to the jewelry making tent for Athena but it ended up being my favorite activity of the day, and I was taught so well that I can bring my new skills with me to make more bracelets when I get home.
We wanted to participate in every activity possible so we quickly ate our lunch while finishing our bracelets so we could attend the Stomp Music Workshop with Dida Heilmann. It was at this workshop that Athena made a Danish friend. Without speaking the same language, they managed to communicate with each other and almost instantly started giggling and laughing together. Her parents were equally friendly and the mom and dad sat next to me, allowing the girls to sit together.
For the rest of the day and the following day, Athena and her new friend were inseparable. And you know what was so fantastic about that? Athena had someone to entertain her, play with her, and keep her company and I had another set of parents who were keeping their eye out for Athena. It was like traveling with family. We all looked out for each other. I watched Athena and the little girl talking back and forth, in different languages, and communicating with each other. It was almost as magical as the mountains surrounding us. They spoke the universal language of childhood imagination.
The National Theater of Greenland hosted a Mask Dancing workshop next. At first, Athena was petrified. She was too scared to even enter the tent. With a little bit of encouragement, she learned about mask dancing and allowed one of the theater performers to put paint on her face. She tried to be scary but she’s just too darn cute to look anything but adorable.
The last performance that we attended for the day was a Magic Show with Einar Mikael. He’s the top rated magician in Iceland and he was there to perform at Qooqqut Festival. He had such a special way with children that everyone adored him. Athena was called up on stage and she was jumping up and down with excitement. (Back on the ship, I had a chance to chat with Einar and I adored him as much as the children. He’s so passionate about his career and bringing happiness to kids that he’s impossible not to like.)
We finished off the day with family-friendly game of soccer. Many of the adults and children participated. We didn’t have teams or rules. We just took turns being in the net and kicking the ball around. It was like a family reunion to complete the day.
Some people were tenting at the Qooqqut Festival and staying the night, but we had another journey ahead. We were heading to the Nuuk Icefjord. We returned to the ship for more entertainment and evening conversations with our new friends.
We woke amidst the ice and I kept waiting to see the Coca Cola bear floating on one of the icebergs with a Diet Coke in his hand because the setting was too magical to be real. I was either dreaming or on a commercial set.
Visit Greenland approached us about attending the Qooqqut Festival but it opened my eyes to the beauty of attending cultural festivals with Athena. It’s such an amazing way to learn about a culture first-hand while being immersed in the environment and natural setting. I’ve already begun researching other cultural festivals in other locations around the world and I’m going to create a cultural festival bucket list. There is no better way to learn about a cultural than to experience it for yourself.