Saturday, December 6, 2008

How to Celebrate an Ethiopian Christmas

  1. Make sure to set up a manger scene that includes the Three Magi. Legend has it that the king bearing frankincense was King Balthazar of Ethiopia, .

  2. Infuse the celebrations with the essential oil frankincense, which was traditionally a gift suitable for a high priest. Today you can mix frankincense with spices or seeds to create different aromas, or you can burn frankincense incense.

  3. Attend a local Christian Orthodox service if there are any nearby. Keep in mind that the services sometimes require that men and women sit in separate areas and that services can last up to three hours.

  4. Sing carols and carry candles either during the service or afterwards.

  5. Prepare an Ethiopian feast for the Christmas meal that includes a main course, such as doro wat (a spicy chicken stew), injera bread (flat round bread) and homemade wine or beer. Keep in mind that injera bread is used to scoop and eat food, hence replacing utensils. The Christmas meal, which is served January 7, is preceded by major preparations that include the purchase and slaughter of an animal (typically a goat or cow).

Encourage the children to play ganna or leddat, which is a form of field hockey in which sticks with hooks on one end are used. The game is played by two opposing teams and the stick and ball are made from locally grown trees. In Ethiopia the teams often represent certain regions and the rivalry can be fierce. According to tradition, shepherds celebrated when they heard of Jesus' birth by playing such a game.

Tips and Warnings:

There are no Christmas trees in a traditional Ethiopian Christmas. However, Christmas trees, sparkles and artificial snow have begun to spring up in the capital city of Addis Ababa.

The exchange of gifts is not customary for Christmas in Ethiopia. The one exception to this is that some families give children new clothing as a part of the celebrations.

The word Ganna is used interchangeably with the word Christmas to mean the birth of Christ (leddat). A common way to refer to the holiday is "ye ganna baal".

Ethiopia is a country with more than 80 languages and many cultural influences, so Christmas traditions are often diverse and cannot be generalized. The preceding steps represent a few local traditions that may or may not be appropriate for your personal celebration of Christmas.

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