Ethiopia still retains the Julian calendar, in which the year is divided into 12 months of 30 days each and a 13th month of 5 days and 6 days in leap year. The Ethiopian calendar is 8 years behind the Gregorian calendar from January to September and 7 years behind between September 11 and January 8.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 this 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 among the urban sophisticated – in lieu or the traditional bouquet of flowers.
Religion plays an important part of life in Ethiopia. The Orthodox Tewahedo Church ceremonies are unique and impressive; especially Timket and Meskel festivals which provide colourful ceremonies and celebrations. People dress in traditional costume and celebrate festivals across the country with colourful unique ceremonies such as Enkutatash (New Year), Meskel (Finding of the True Cross), Ledet (Christmas), Timket (Epiphany ) and Fasika (Easter). Islamic tradition also celebrates religious festivals in the Ethiopian calendar, notably, Muharram, Milad-an-Nabi and Eid-ul-Fitr.
Enkutatash (New Year)
Enkutatash (New Year) Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year) falls on September 1 Ethiopian calendar (September 11 Gregorian Calendar) at the end of the Ethiopian rain season and is called Enkutatash. September 1 is also celebrated to mark the commemoration of Saint John the Baptist. Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year) is not only a religious holiday but it also a day for young boys and girls to sing and dance and for exchanging New Year greetings among urban and rural inhabitants.
Meskel (Finding of the True Cross)
Meskel is celebrated by dancing, feasting and lighting a massive bonfire known in Ethiopian tradition as “Damera”. Meskel commemorates the finding of the True Cross in the fourth century when Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great,discovered the True Cross on which Christ was crucified. The feast is celebrated in Ethiopia on September 17 Ethiopian calendar (September 27 Gregorian calendar), 6 months after the discovery of the True Cross. The celebration of Meskel signifies thepresence of the True Cross at mountain of Gishen Mariam monastery and also symbolises the events carried out by Empress Helena.According to tradition, Empress Helena lit incense and prayed for assistance to guideher. 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 then gave a piece of the True Cross to all churches, including the Ethiopian Church. This piece was then brought to Ethiopia. According to the Ethiopian legend,when people get close to the piece of the True Cross it made them naked by its powerful light. Because of this, a decision was made to bury it at the mountain of Gishen Mariam monastery in Wollo region. The monastery of Gishen Mariam holds a volume of a book which records the story of the True Cross of Christ and how it was acquired.
Debra Damo (Feast of Saint Aregawi)
Orthodox Tewahedo Christians celebrate the feast of Saint (Abune) Aregawi, on October 14 Ethiopian calendar (October 24 Gregorian calendar) which culminates in a pilgrimage to Debra Damo, about 25 kilometres from Adigrat, from all over the country.
Kulubi (Feast of Saint Gabriel)
The feast of Saint Gabriel (kulubi Gebriel), the Archangel, is celebrated on December 19 Ethiopian calendar (December 28 Gregorian calendar) which culminates in a pilgrimage to Kulubi, about 68 kilometres from Dire Dawa. Orthodox Tewahedo Christians mark the celebration with colourful processions and ceremonies. Pilgrims walk up the hill to the church to fulfil a vow and give gifts to the church. Some pilgrims carry heavy rocks on their back up the hill to the church.
Ledet (Christmas) falls on December 29 Ethiopian calendar (January 7 Gregorian calendar). Ledet (Christmas) is celebrated after 43 days fasting known as Tsome Gahad (Advent), with a spectacular procession, which begins at 6 AM and lasts until 9 AM.After the mass service, people go home to break the fast with the meat of chicken or lamb or beef accompanied with injera and the traditional drinks (i.e. tella or tej).
Timket (Epiphany) is one of the greatest festival in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church calendar. It commemorates Christ’s Baptism by Saint John in the Jordan River.Timket is celebrated in Ethiopia on January 11 Ethiopian calendar (January 19 Gregorian calendar), two weeks after Ledet (Ethiopian Christmas), beginning on the Eve of Timket with colourful processions and ceremonies ending on the January 12 (January 20 Gregorian calendar). In Timket, Tella and Tej are brewed, special bread is baked called “Himbash” (in Tigrigna) “Ambasha” (in Amharic), and sheep are slaughtered to mark the three-day celebration.
Fasika (Easter) is celebrated after 55 days severe Lent fasting (Hudade or Abye Tsome). Orthodox Tewahedo Christians do not eat meat and diary products for the whole 55 days. Vegetarian meals such as lentils, ground split peas, grains, fruit and varieties of vegetable stew accompanied by injera and/or bread are only eaten on these days. The fist meal of the day is taken after 3 PM (9 o’clock in the afternoon Ethiopian time) during the fasting days, except Saturdays and Sundays, where a meal is allowed after the morning service.On Easter eve people go to church and celebrate with candles which are lit during a colourful Easter mass service which begins at about 6 PM (12 o’clock in the evening Ethiopian time) and ends at about 2 AM (8 o’clock after mid-night Ethiopian time).Everyone goes home to break the fast with the meat of chicken or lamb, slaughtered the previous night after 6 PM, accompanied with injera and traditional drinks (i.e. tella or tej). Like Christmas, Easter is also a day of family re-union, an expression of good wishes with exchange of gifts (i.e. lamb, goat or loaf of bread).
- Muharram/Al Hijra – New Year
- Milad-an-Nabi – birthday of Prophet Mohammed
- Lailt-ul-Isra – the night of ascension
- Lailat-Ul-Bara’ah – the night of forgiveness
- Ramadan – month of fasting
- Eid-ul-Fitr – end of the fast
- The Hajj – pilgrimage to Mecca
- Eid-ul-Adha – end of the Hajj pilgrimage