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Holiday Traditions of Ethiopia

"Merry Christmas"

Ethiopia uses the Julian calendar, so Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on January 7th. In the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, this Christmas celebration is called Ganna. Members of the church participate in a special Advent fast during the 43 days before Christmas, which begins on November 25th, called Fast of the Prophets. They adhere to a strict diet of one vegan meal per day.

On Ganna, the people dress in a traditional garment called a Netela, a thin white cotton piece of cloth with brightly colored stripes on the ends worn like a shawl or toga. They attend mass at their churches on Christmas Eve at 6PM, a service which lasts until 3AM on Christmas Day. An Ethiopian Church is designed as three concentric circles. During this service, the choir sings from the outer circle. Everyone in the congregation is given a candle to hold while they walk around the church three times in a procession. After, they assemble in the second circle to stand during the service, separating the males and the females. The center circle is considered the most holy place in the church, and is reserved for the priest to conduct the mass and serve the Holy Communion.

Twelve days after Ganna, on January 19th, Ethiopians begin Timkat, the three day celebration of the baptism of Jesus Christ, and the beginning of His earthly ministry. Children walk to church services in a procession, wearing the crowns and robes of the church youth groups they belong to, while adults wear the Netela. Priests wear red and white robes and carry embroidered fringed umbrellas. During this procession musical instruments are played, such as the sistrum, a percussion instrument which resembles a vertical tambourine. Priests use the makamiya, a long t-shaped prayer stick, to keep the rhythm and to lean on during the long Timkat church service. 

During this season, the men and the boys play a game also called Ganna, similar to hockey, played with a curved stick and a wooden ball. Another game, called Yeferas Guks, involves men on horseback throwing ceremonial lances at each other. 

One traditional Ethiopian Christmas dish is wat, a thick, spicy stew made of meat, vegetables, and eggs, eaten on a flatbread plate called injera. Pieces of the injera are broken off and used to scoop up the wat.

Holiday Traditions in Ethiopia

Video by Ohio District - LCMS