The most remarkable fact about Ethiopia is that they still follow the Julian calendar and therefore observe Christmas on 7th January and not on December 25! Christmas, according to the orthodox Ethiopian Church, is termed as "Ganna". The Christmas celebrations in Ethiopia are conducted in all ancient and modern churches with much fervor. People fast on Christmas Eve which is 6th January, which is broken the next day. Following the tradition each individual enters the church with a candle in his or her hand and is also dressed in white robes. Unlike many other parts of the world, Christmas is not much commercialized in Ethiopia. The focus is more on the family gatherings and the spiritual aspects of the festival. People spend a lot of time praying the Lord and singing in his reverence. A strict observance of fast itself tells of their profound spiritual association with Christmas. Read through the article to learn about the Christmas celebrations in Ethiopia.
Customs, Traditions & Celebrations
The day before Christmas or Ganna, people observe a fast which is broken the next day at dawn. So, the fast begins on 6th January and on 7th morning they get dressed in traditional garments called "shamma" and prepare themselves for the church services, after which the fast is terminated. "Shamma" is a thin white cotton cloth, worn like a toga. The priests wear a similar kind of thing, except that it will have both colors of red and white. In the cities, the urban Ethiopians are seen in "western" white clothes.
The masses are held as early as 4 A.M in the morning. People gather in the churches close to their houses and as they enter the church they are given candles before the ceremony begins. The ancient churches in Ethiopia are located outside the capital city. These are etched out of solid volcanic rocks, much like the houses in Ethiopia. The modern churches are built in three concentric circles and the choir sings from the outer circle. As people enter the church they walk around it three times in a quiet procession holding the candles. Then they proceed to the second circle, where they stand throughout the ceremony. Seats are not found in Ethiopian churches. Men and women stand separately during the church service. The center is the most sacred place of the church where the priests conduct the Holy Communion. The mass usually lasts for three hours, but sometimes it might exceed.
Christmas Traditional Games
Ganna is traditional Ethiopia game played by men and boys on Christmas Eve. In this game, a curved wooden stick and a wooden ball are used to play, which hold certain resemblances with the game of hockey. "Yeferas suk" is another game in which men ride on horsebacks, shooting spears at each other.
During Christmas "injera", flat spongy bread and "doro wat", which is Ethiopian chicken in red pepper paste, is a prime delicacy. "Wat' is served on "injera", which serves as a base for the stew.
Twelve days after the Christmas or Ganna, the festival of "Timkat" is celebrated. "Timkat" is observed on 19th January as an occasion which revers the baptism of Jesus Christ. It is a three-day long festival. Children walk in a procession to attend the church services. They are dressed in robes and wear crowns, depending on the church groups they belong. The music which accompanies the church procession is a special event in the Ethiopian Christmas. The musical instruments used are sistrums and a T-shaped prayer sticks which create a festive and joyous environment when played.
Ethiopians do not exchange gifts during Christmas. They believe in praying, observing fast, feasting and playing games. They like to celebrate Christmas in the traditional manner, the way it has been ever since Ethiopia was Christianized.
Indeed Ethiopia has a different and unique approach to Christmas celebrations. When most of countries are submerged in partying, holidaying and giving gifts, Ethiopia takes a more conventional, religious and tranquil path. Even in the modern city of Addis Ababa, the capital city, people like to observe Ganna, as conventionally as possible. Two major things, which are found in most Christmas celebrations across the world i.e. the Christmas tree and gift-giving, do not have a place in the Ethiopian way of Christmas. Nevertheless, this does not reduce the charm and the unfathomable spirituality involved in the Ganna celebrations.
The celebrations of Christmas in Ethiopia are of a very spiritual nature due to people's firm belief in the in the tradition and customs involving the festival.