Ethiopians mostly associated with the Orthodox Church, whose beliefs differ from the typical Christian faith. Thus, Christmas in Ethiopia is unique and different from other world parts.
They celebrate Christmas, known as Genna, on 7th January, rather than 25th December. The difference is due to the Orthodox calendar that contains variation in months from the standard calendar.
Particularly, Ethiopians do not prioritize the giving of gifts during Christmas.
For them, it is a special moment for people to attend the priestly services in churches, then afterward gather at homes, eat together and spend valuable time as families.
Christmas decorations often include the adornment of Christmas trees with balloons, snow cotton balls, and image representations of Jesus. Besides, the Christmas foods that are favorite Ethiopian dishes during this time include:
- Wat- a thick and spiced-up meat stew
- Injera- a flat sourdough type of bread
The Significance of Lalibela Town
Ethiopians value their rich history. Lalibela is a town located in Ethiopia’s northern highlands. King Lalibela is the initiator of all the thirteen churches found there. They are all unique and vertically-made from the rock.
The Lalibela scene is a significant pilgrim of Ethiopia’s Orthodox churches. It is also their heritage; which they refer to as their ‘Jerusalem.’
The area is a world’s beautiful ancient site. People will often travel from different regions of Ethiopia, to commemorate Christmas at Lalibela.
Ethiopian Christmas is one of the most valued feast days of Lalibela. As soon as the New Year sets in, the people begin to hold different ceremonies within the churches, and in preparation for Genna or Christmas on 7th January.
The Lalibela rock churches are very tall. During Christmas, the large illuminated candles held by the worshipers from the outside and roof-top part of the churches will always be visible from afar.
The Customary Church Events of Christmas
Most Ethiopian adults usually take part in the, ‘Tsome Nebiya,’ 43-day fasting before the day of Christmas.
During this time, an individual should only take one vegetable type a day. They do not recommend protein and starchy foods.
At the dawn of Christmas, the people wake up early and dress up in white robes. They then leave for the 4 a.m morning mass.
Ethiopians mostly adore their traditional Shamma cloth. It is thin-white cotton clothing with bright stripes across the edges. Women usually cover their heads with white scarfs.
You will quickly identify the priests who wear specially-designed white and red robes plus turbans. On this particular day, the priests also carry beautiful-fringed umbrellas.
In the modern Ethiopian churches, and on Christmas day, you will mostly find a neatly-dressed choir group standing outside the church circle. They then issue a candle to everyone going into the church.
In a quiet march, and with everyone holding their lighting candle, the entire congregation conducts a three-round parade walk around the church.
They then separate and have women and girls on one side, while men and boys on a different side.
As the extensive Christmas mass goes on, everyone stands alert the entire time. The standing positions are such that a visible circle forms at the center.
The center circle is considered a holy place where the priest serves the congregation with Holy Communion.
The After Christmas Timkat Festivity
Twelve days after Christmas, Ethiopians celebrate ‘Timkat.’ It is a three-day commemoration of the baptism of Jesus. Children usually lead the church procession.
They dress in robes and crowns of their particular youth groups.
The Ethiopians habitually regard Timkat as part of the Christmas season and an extension to it.
Thus, immediately after Christmas day on 7th January, the festive mood continues as they prepare for the commemoration of ‘Christ Baptism.’
With the Ethiopian Musical Instrument, Timkat is often a very cheerful occasion.
The ‘dabtaras,’ who are church officials, will practice thoroughly on how to play the musical instruments perfectly; especially the ceremonial melekets and particular vocal chants.
The men enjoy playing a sport known as, ‘yeferas guks;’ where they will horse ride and throw ceremonial pierces at one another.
Always, the people of Ethiopia look forward to Christmas, and every of the exciting and memorable moments in waiting.
Happy/Merry Christmas in Amharic is ‘Melikam Gena!’ (መልካም ገና!). It is interesting to know how people wish Happy or Merry Christmas in other languages.
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Main Points About Christmas in Ethiopia
- Christmas in Ethiopia is not typically held on the 25th of December, but it is held on the 7th of January.
- Before Christmas, there is a 43 day fast (fast of the Prophets). During this fast, Ethiopians stick to traditional vegan meals.
- For Christmas, people in rural areas wear white toga or shawl with brightly colored stripes at the tip. While the people in the cities typically wear western attires.
- On Christmas eve, many Ethiopians are gaily dressed for the evening mass.
- Typically, many Ethiopians stick to their traditional Christmas meals. They include meat stew, eggs, and vegetables.
Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on January 7h because of the Julian Calendar.
This day is called Ganna, and families will go to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church together.
The day before, people fast all day, and the next day everyone dresses in white, and attend the early mass at 4 am.
There’s also a celebration which takes place several days later as well as ”Timkat”, on January 19th, a three-day celebration of remembering the baptism of Christ.
Word Cloud for Christmas in Ethiopia
The following is a collection of the most used terms in this article on Christmas in Ethiopia. This should help in recalling related terms as used in this article at a later stage for you.
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Chara Yadav holds MBA in Finance. Her goal is to simplify finance-related topics. She has worked in finance for about 25 years. She has held multiple finance and banking classes for business schools and communities. Read more at her bio page.