Ethiopia is a country apart from the rest of the world… literally. They have their own calendar so while other countries are currently in 2020, Ethiopia is still in the year 2012, having celebrated their new year last September 2019. Their holidays are also unique and while it is possible to celebrate regular holidays like International Labor Day and Eid el Fitr, the rest of their holidays are significantly different. A year in the Ethiopian calendar is 13 months long and the people also have their own timekeeping where they don’t practice daylight saving.
As a traveler, you’re probably wondering how you can experience these cultural holidays or at the very least, time them with your own. Here’s a brief breakdown to get you started on planning your next Ethiopia tours:
Celebrations in Ethiopia are unique and colorful events. They are mostly religious and they frequently take place over several days, some even among local Ethiopian tribes residing in the Lower Omo Valley. Important Christan holidays include Timkat, Meskel, Christmas, Kidddus Yohannes, and Easter.
Ethiopian New Year – Enkutatash (September 11)
At the end of the long spring rains when the Highlands are covered with wildflowers, the Ethiopian New Year celebrates both the New Year and the feast of John the Baptist. Children dressed in brand-new clothes dance through the villages giving bouquets and painted pictures to each household. Enkutatash simply means the “gift of jewels’ ‘, when the Queen of Sheba arrived from her journey to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem. Upon arrival, her Chiefs welcomed her back by replenishing her treasury with jewels, or enku. The Spring festival in Ethiopia has been celebrated since the early times. As the rains come to an end, dancing and singing can be heard at every village in the green countryside and bonfires are lit by every family in the evening while dancing and singing continue.
Genna – Ethiopian Christmas (7th January)
Genna comes from the word Gennana, meaning “imminent” to express the coming of the Lord and freeing of mankind from sin. Genna, the Ethiipian Christmas, falls on January 7th (Gregorian calendar) and people in towns and villages dress up in their finest to celebrate. Christmas festivities begin early in the morning as early as 6: 00 am when people gather in Churches for mass. Afterward, Ethiopians disperse to their homes to feast. Genna is quietly shared and celebrated in groups of friends and family. Food served include Doro Wat, a spicy chicken stew and Injera, sourdough pancake-like bread. A local wine called Tej, made from honey accompanies the feast.
Fasika – Easter (May – Date varies)
Fasika is celebrated after 55 day-period of fasting (Abye Tsome or Hudade). People go to church on Easter eve and celebrate with candles which are lit during a colorful Easter mass service which begins at about 6 pm and ends at about 2 am. Fasila is colorfully celebrated at Axum and Lalibela and everyone goes back home to break the feast with chicken or lamb. Similarly to Christmas, Easter is also a day of family reunion and exchange of gifts and expression of good wishes.
Finding of the True Cross – Meskel (September 26th and 27th)
The Meskel Festival is one of Ethiopia’s major Orthodox festivals. It is celebrated for two days beginning September 26th. The mother of Constantine the Great, Queen Helena, in the year 326 discovered the cross upon which Christ was crucified. Dimera is the first occasion in which bonfires are built topped by a cross to which flowers are tied, and at the closing of Dimera, a rain shower is expected to fall to help extinguish the fire. If the rain eventually falls and puts the fire out, it is believed that the year will be prosperous.
Meskel is colorfully celebrated and the festival coincides with the mass blooming of the golden yellow meskel daisies. Addis Ababa is the best place to see the Meskel at the famous Meskel square, while Bahir dar, Gonder, Axum, Lalibela, and other major towns are also good places to see the Meskel festival.
Timket – Ethiopian Epiphany (January 19th or 20th)
Celebrating the Baptism of Christ every January 19th (20th during a leap year), The Timket Festival in Ethiopia is the greatest and most colorful festival of the Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia which celebrates the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist. The eve of the Timket is marked by another celebration called Ketera, which sees the Tabots of each church carried out in procession to a river or pool of water where the next day’s celebration takes place. The best place to attend the Timket is in Lalibela, Gonder, and Addis Ababa where many tents are pitched in the grassy field of Jon Meda.
Knowing the exact dates of the holidays in Ethiopia in the Gregorian calendar can help tourists who plan to visit and celebrate their own holidays with Ethiopians. If you are looking to visit Ethiopia to spend the holidays, visit our website and fill out the contact form.
Here’s our offered tour for you to experience these amazing festivals: