Festivals & Holidays
Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas, called Lidet, is not the primary religious and secular festival that it has become in Western countries. Falling on January 7th, it is celebrated seriously by a church service that goes on throughout the night, with people moving from one church to another. Traditionally, young men are playing a game similar to hockey, called genna, on this day. With this background Christmas got its sobriquet “Genna”.
This is one of the greatest festivals in the Ethiopian Orthodox church calendar. It commemorates Christ’s Baptism by Saint John in the Jordan River. Timkat is celebrated in Ethiopia on January 19. On this day in the morning the people go to the nearby church for prayer and in the afternoon the replicas of the Arc of the Covenants are taken out of every church accompanied by priests, deacons, singers of the church as well as by the ordinary people to the place where to baptism ceremony is held. The covenants will be there for one night. Then on the next day in the morning all of the covenants are taken back to the churches to which they belong. During Timket, “Talla” (traditional beer) and “Tej” (traditional honey wine) are brewed: special bread is baked called “Himash”.
Adwa Commemoration Day
The Battle of Adwa, in which Ethiopian forces under Emperor Menelik II united to defeat an invading force of Italian troops, was one of the most significant turning points in the history of modern Africa. It occurred, in 1896, when the “colonial era” was well advanced on the African continent, and it served notice that Africa was not just there “for the taking” by European powers. More than this, it marked the entry of Ethiopia into the modern community of nations: Menelik’s victory over the Italians caused the other major European states, and Italy itself, to recognise Ethiopia as a sovereign, independent state in the context of modern statecraft. Nowadays, whole Ethiopia celebrates this national holiday on the 2nd of March as the Victory of Adwa Commemoration Day.
Easter is celebrated after 55 days sever lent fasting. Orthodox Christians does not eat meat and dairy products for almost two months to commemorate the 40 days of lent fasting of Jesus before his crucifixion. Only vegan meals such as lentils, ground split peas, grains, fruits and varieties of vegetable stew accompanied by Injera and /or bread are eaten on these days. During the fasting days, the first meal of the day is taken after 3 pm, except Saturday and Sunday when a meal is allowed after the morning service. Fasika is one of the most important celebrations for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians.
Enkutatash means the “gift of jewels”. When the famous Queen of Sheba returned from her expensive jaunt to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem, her chiefs welcomed her bolts by replenishing her treasury with inku or jewels. The spring festival has been celebrated since these early times and as the rains come to their abrupt end, dancing and singing can be heard at every village in the green countryside. But Enkutatash is not exclusively a religious holiday. Today’s Enkutatash is also the season for exchanging formal New Year greetings and cards or the traditional bouquet of flowers. It is celebrated on September 11.
Meskel (the finding of the true cross)
This festival is one of the true landmark events in the Ethiopian culture and spiritual life. Meskel means “cross” in Geez, the classic language of Ethiopia, now used predominantly in the Ethiopian Orthodox church. Ethiopia claims more than thousand types of cross designs to its treasured heritage and uncontested world record. Meskel is celebrated by dancing, feasting and lighting a massive bonfire, known in Ethiopia tradition as “Demmera”. Meskel festival commemorates the finding of the true cross on which Jesus Christ of Nazret was crucified in Golgotha. In the fourth century Empress Helena the mother of Constantine the Great discovered the true cross on which Jesus Christ crucified. The feast is celebrated in Ethiopia on September 27th. The celebration of Meskel signifies the presence of the true cross at the mountain of Gishen Mariam monastery and also symbolizes the events carried out by Empress Helena. According to tradition, Empress Helena lit incense and prayed for assistance to guide her. The smoke drifted towards the direction of the buried cross. She dug and found three crosses. One of them was the true cross used to crucify Jesus Christ. Empress Helena gave a piece of the true cross to all the churches including the Ethiopian church. This piece was then brought to Ethiopia.
Besides the often religious based public holidays there is a variety of local festivals being held throughout the year. Most of them are very worth visiting.
Feast of Saint Aregawi at Debre Damo Monastry
Orthodox Christians celebrate the feast of Saint (Abune) Aregawi, on October 24th which culminates in a pilgrimage to Debre Damo Monastry that is found about 37 km from Adigrat in the far North of Ethiopia. This 6th century Axumite stone church lies on top of a 3,000 m high flat-topped hill. The only way to reach the monastery is by ascending the 15m-high cliff with the aid of a leather rope.
Christmas Kullubi-Feast of St Gabriel
St Gabriel is the Patron Saint who guards over homes and churches. There is a huge pilgrimage to St Gabriel’s Church on Kulubi hill, which is on the route from Addis Ababa eastwards, about 70 kilometres before Dire Dawa on December 28th. Many pilgrims carry heavy burdens as penance, children are brought to be baptized, and offerings are made to be distributed to the poor.
The Erecha Ritual of Oromos at Bishoftu
Oromos are numerically the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. Oromos have an annual ritual of celebrating nature and thanksgiving to their god the creator called Waqa. The celebration involves making offerings on designated big tree and making recitations of good wish, blessing and sprinkling what is considered holy water on the participants. Erecha is celebrated in many parts of Ethiopia and the most popular one takes place at Bishoftu (Debre Zeit) town 44km south-east of Addis Ababa and by the shores of Lake Hora. Jimma town is another place of Erecha. This ritual is also an occasion where Oromo people of Christian, Muslim and Animist faith groups come together to participate in the ceremony.
Bull Jumping Ritual (Coming of Age)
The Hamer are one of the tribal communities of the Omo Valley in Ethiopia. They are popular for their distinctive initiation ceremony to their young men before they marry. The ceremony involves walking on the back of cattle, a row of up to 10 bulls stand side by side and aligned by the friends of the young bridegroom. The practice is used as a sign of good luck if the young man successfully crosses four times. Otherwise, he tries again a year later. This celebration takes usually place in the months July- September.
Youngsters Stick Fighting
Every year in July and August, the Surma people of Omo valley in Ethiopia have a strange ritual, which for this tribe is a time-honoured tradition where men competitively prove their vigour and physical might through stick fight known as Donga. The stick fighters are often single young men. During the ceremony is the aim of each fighter, to score as much points as possible. A win is a knock out, but the fighters are not allowed to murder their opponent. „The winner takes it all“, he gets more social approval and a group of unmarried girls to choose his wife.
The Great Ethiopian Run
This event is annual organized in October – December by Great Ethiopian Run, which is an independent non-governmental organization operating in Ethiopia since 2001. The organization has a mission of staging mass-participation athletic competitions in Ethiopia. The annual Great Ethiopian Run has the legendary athlete Haile GebreSelassie as its icon and the event has been adorned by local community, expatriats and international participants. This event is not only a good chance to mingle with Addis residents but also serves as a platform of helping the needy via fund raising for example.