Ethiopia is one of the oldest countries in Africa and one of the very few where the ancient Julian calendar, in accordance to the Coptic Church, is still followed. This means that here, Christmas is celebrated on 7th January instead of 25th December; and Christmas holidays are referred to as 'Ye Ganna Bal' which means "the Birth of Christ". On this day, attending church is a strict religious observance rather than just being a holiday formality. The day is celebrated in good spirit and there is a lot of vigor in the air. This colorful festival can go on for days, at times. Family and friends get together to indulge in good food, church services and traditional games. Ethiopia is a vast country comprising of more than eighty languages and cultures; no doubt then that the traditions are very diverse. Ethiopian Christmas is an amalgam of many different customs. Read on to learn more about the Ethiopian ways of celebrating Christmas.
Ethiopian Christmas Customs
On January 6th, Ethiopian Christmas Eve, people observe a fast. The city is crowded with pilgrims praying, chanting and singing carols on the streets. The fast is broken the next day at dawn, followed by a colorful procession.
White's the Colour
For the mass, everyone is clad in a thin, white cotton traditional cloth called the "Shamma" which has bright stripes at the end. This garment is worn like a toga, however urban Ethiopians just wear white western attire. The priests wear turbans, red-white robes and carry colorful fringed umbrellas.
Masses are conducted in ancient churches as well as the modern ones; the modern churches are designed with three concentric circles. In modern churches, the choir assembles in the outer circle. Each person entering the church is given a candle and they collect in the second circle. The men are separated from the women in this congregation. The center-most circle is the holiest of all and this is where the priests assemble. The mass can last for as long as three hours or probably even more.
As 'Ganna' is more about religious observances, gifts aren't really an integral part of the season. Other than new clothes, the children don't receive much. Instead, food and games are the major highlights. A lot of traditional games are played this season. The men and boys play a game called 'ganna' which is played with a curved stick and a round wooden ball. Another Christmas sport played is called 'yeferas suk' in which the men ride on horseback and shoot lances at each other.
Ethiopian Christmas feast includes dishes like "Doro Wat", "Injera" and homemade wine or beer. The Doro Wat is a spicy stew containing vegetables and meat. Purchasing a goat or cow, and slaughtering it for the stew, is a part of the preparations too. Injera is a flat round sourdough bread which is used for serving food thereby, replacing utensils. The Doro Wat is served in beautifully decorated baskets.
Timkat-A Post Celebration
Twelve days after Ganna, on January 19th, Ethiopians celebrate a festival called Timkat. This is like a continuation of 'Ganna' and it marks the baptism of Christ. Just like on Ganna, "Shamma" is worn by the people on Timkat also. A special percussion instrument with metal disks, called the sistrum, makes the procession for Timkat that much more festive.
A different world and certainly a very different way of celebrating Christmas is what Christmas in Ethiopia is all about. Here's hoping the information on Ethiopian Christmas customs has enlightened you on the different ways of how Christmas is celebrated.
Christmas traditions in Ethiopia warrant Christmas celebrations in January. Surprised? Read on for more about Christmas in Ethiopia and the various Ethiopian Christmas customs.