by Christine Killmeyer
On September 11th Ethiopia celebrates its New Year’s Eve. Ethiopia’s calendar is based on the Copian calendar and thus has 13th months instead of 12 months. The first 12 months of the year have 30 days each, the 13th month also called Pagume has only 5 days and only in leap years the sixth day. According to the Ethiopian year, a year lasts 365 days, 6 hours, 2 minutes, and 24 seconds. Since this is a little bit longer compared to our time calculation, the Ethiopian calculation of time is 7 years and 8 months behind ours. Thus, for them, the year 2012 begins this year on the 11th of September.
The Ethiopian New Year is also called Enkutatash. This means the “gift of jewels”. It is said that the name derives from the jewels that the Queen of Sheba received as a gift when she returned to Ethiopia from her visit to King Solomon in 980 B.C.
The celebrations in Ethiopia last about a week and gathering with family and friends is the main focus. The festivities begin on New Year’s Eve when each family lights torches to symbolize the return and joyful anticipation of the sun after the rainy season. These torches are made by the families themselves the night before the New Year with the help of dry leaves and wood. Each family then lights their homemade torch in front of their own house. In addition to the burning torches, the singing of songs is also an important tradition. These are passed down and respected from generation to generation. In addition to the joy of the first rays of sunshine and the associated beginning of the good harvest season, the meskel flowers also have an important meaning for Ethiopia, because these make the stricken land look dipped in gold after the rainy season.
The Ethiopian New Year is not only seen as a religious festival but also as a special day when people exchange New Year greetings. Away from the big cities, children traditionally give their parents a bouquet of flowers and are given small gifts themselves. For example, the girls go from house to house singing, for which they are given money as a thank you. The boys traditionally sell self-painted pictures. In the big cities, however, especially in Addis Abeda, greeting cards are sent nowadays.