Ethiopian ”Genna” Christmas, which is celebrated on the 7th January, is called Ledet or Genna which comes from the word (Gennana), meaning “imminent” and which expresses the coming of the Lord and the freeing of mankind from sin. The celebration of Ethiopian Christmas is marked by various activities such as horse racing and authentic folk dancing. At Lalibela, Genna is celebrated in very attractive ways due to the birth date of King Lalibela being on a similar day. In the rural areas a popular game which looks like European Hockey but is typically Ethiopian is conducted between two youth teams. The game is named after the festival and is called “Yegena Chewata”.
Christmas is more unique in rural areas than in the cities and it is celebrated seriously by a church service that goes on throughout the night, with people moving from one church to another.
It is quietly shared and celebrated in groups of friends and family. Gift giving is a very small part of Christmas festivities in Ethiopia and only small gifts are exchanged among family and friends at home. The festive mood usually continues until the late hours of the evening. The joy of giving and sharing, extends beyond religious beliefs and spreads the spirit of peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind throughout the world.
Here are the Ethiopian customs
On January 6th, Ethiopian Christmas Eve, people observe a fast. The city is crowded with pilgrims praying, chanting and singing carols on the streets. The fast is broken the next day at dawn, followed by a colorful procession.
White’s the main Colour
For the mass, everyone is clad in a thin, white cotton traditional cloth called the “Shamma” which has bright stripes at the end. This garment is worn like a toga, however urban Ethiopians just wear white western attire. The priests wear turbans, red-white robes and carry colorful fringed umbrellas.
Masses are conducted in ancient churches as well as the modern ones; the modern churches are designed with three concentric circles. In modern churches, the choir assembles in the outer circle. Each person entering the church is given a candle and they collect in the second circle. The men are separated from the women in this congregation. The center-most circle is the holiest of all and this is where the priests assemble. The mass can last for as long as three hours or probably even more.
Ethiopian Christmas feast includes dishes like “Doro Wat”, “Injera” and homemade wine or beer. The Doro Wat is a spicy stew containing vegetables and meat. Purchasing a goat or cow, and slaughtering it for the stew, is a part of the preparations too. Injera is a flat round sourdough bread which is used for serving food thereby, replacing utensils. The Doro Wat is served in beautifully decorated baskets.
As ‘Ganna’ is more about religious observances, gifts aren’t really an integral part of the season. Other than new clothes, the children don’t receive much. Instead, food and games are the major highlights. A lot of traditional games are played this season. The men and boys play a game called ‘ganna’ which is played with a curved stick and a round wooden ball. Another Christmas sport played is called ‘yeferas suk’ in which the men ride on horseback and shoot lances at each other.
Timkat-A Post Celebration
Twelve days after Ganna, on January 19th, Ethiopians celebrate a festival called Timkat. This is like a continuation of ‘Ganna’ and it marks the baptism of Christ. Just like on Ganna, “Shamma” is worn by the people on Timkat also. A special percussion instrument with metal disks, called the sistrum, makes the procession for Timkat that much more festive.
A different world and certainly a very different way of celebrating Christmas is what Christmas in Ethiopia is all about. Here’s hoping the information on Ethiopian Christmas customs has enlightened you on the different ways of how Christmas is celebrated.