By Christine Killmeyer
Christmas in Ethiopia Christmas in Ethiopia is quite different to ours. Contrary to us, Ethiopians celebrate their pendant “Genna” or “Ganna” on January 7th, according to the Julian Calendar having twelve months each counting 30 days as well as an additional 13th month having five to six days. Genna is celebrated on the 29th day of the month called Tahsas corresponding to our January 7th. Prior to Genna, most people take part in a 43-day fast starting on November 25th, known as “Nebiyat“ meaning “Fast of the Prophets”. Throughout the fasting period, only one meal is consumed per day avoiding meat, eggs, dairy and wine.
On Genna, people wear the traditional white garment known as “Netela” consisting out of thin cotton with woven ends. Most Ethiopians attend church already starting in the evening of January 6th lasting until about 3am on Genna. Everyone participating the service receives a candle. A beautiful sea of lights is formed and people walk around the church three times. Once finished, the community begins to build three circles while the choir forms the outer one. The congregation is located in the middle one and the priest can be found in the inner circle. During the service people sing and chant. Since the number of people who want to attend the service exceeds the church’s capacity, speakers are installed to enable the live transfer outside the building. Later on Genna, people visit their friends and family at home and consume lots of food and coffee to celebrate the end of the fasting period.
Traditionally, as starters, people eat a light meal continued by “Doro Wat” – a spicy and thick stew made of vegetables, meat and occasionally eggs. The stew is served with the traditional flatbread called “Injera”. In Ethiopia, people don’t receive presents on Genna since the focus is on spending time with family and friends surrounded by delicious food and prayers. Sometimes exceptions are made for children. Every year boys and young men play a game called Ganna on Christmas day. As it is played with a stick and a small ball made out of wood, it has high similarity to hockey. Celebrations are not completely finished on January 7th. Twelve days apart, the festivities of “Timkat” start to revel the baptism of Jesus. This event lasts about three days and emphasises the youth. Children wear different crowns and robes showing which type of church group they belong to. Adults mostly wear the “Netela” again and the procession is accompanied by lots of music. People play traditional instruments like the “sistrum” consisting of tinkling metal disks.