Ethiopian Christmas-ገና


Gena game in Jan meda, Addis Ababa  Source-theforsakenchildren

Gena game in Jan meda, Addis Ababa

(Borkena) Tomorrow is one of the biggest days in Ethiopia. Known locally asGena (ገና), Ethiopian Christmas is one of the most colourful holidays in the country. Never heard of a different Christmas day?! Of course, there is for those  who celebrate in the traditions of Orthodox Churches. Apparently, the erstwhile day of Christmas day even within Catholic religious tradition is contested by Catholic pope emeritus Benedict XVI as he seem to believe that Anno Domini is based on miscalculations by Dionysius Exiguus. For Benedict XVI, the accurate birth of Jesus Christ predates the day which is conventionally celebrated in the West and within the Catholic traditions.

In any case, Ethiopian Christmas falls on January 7 of Gregorian calendar which corresponds to Thahisas 29, 28 when it is a Leap Year (Zemene Yohannes), of the Ethiopian calendar. Thahisas corresponds to December but unlike December, Thahisas is only the fourth months of the Ethiopian year which begins in September.

As a country located along the equator, there are parts of Ethiopia which receive rain and evergreen throughout the year. However, most parts of Ethiopia experience heavy rains and cloudy skies mainly in the months ofHamele (July) and Nehassie (August).

September (Meskerem) heralds the end of cloudy and intense rainy seasons, and coming of clear skies and bright days. Blossoming yellow daisy flower covering landscapes coupled with bright days, September really feels like new. It is a back to school season too. Indeed, it is one of the most memorable parts of the year. The first day of Meskerem (September) is the New Year and it is called Enkutatash – a name that captures the joy of the day.

Gena, Ethiopian Christmas, is both a cultural and religious holiday at the same time.

For the pious laity of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Gena festivity is preceded by weeks of fasting and the holiday is known as “Lidet” ( or B’irhane Lidet) – literally “birth.” (Nativity).

Source :

Source :

Ethiopian Orthodox churches all over Ethiopia do have overnight ritual and liturgy celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. However, the celebration in Lalibela is truly special and thrilling. Carved out of single stones, churches in Lalibela may just mean, for the rest of the world, architectural wonder which goes back to the 12th century. For followers of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church, Lalibela represents special spiritual significance. Believers from all over the country make pilgrimage to Lalibela to celebrate the holiday. In the course of the spiritual celebration, exceptionally captivating ecclesiastical song of the holiday goes like “The saviour of the world is born today!” could makes ones heart pound with joy. Of course Lalibela is dubbed as “Jerusalem”

Well, the spirituality of it may not be vivid to thousands of tourists, from the world over, attracted to experience the event at Lalibela. However, the solemnity, originality and nobility of the celebration surely captures imagination- and is a treasure for people who admire different cultures.

Socially, Gena, just like other holidays, brings together not just families but also neighbours. Of course Ethiopians, predominantly, used to be oblivion of the concept – extended family- which appears to be sociological construction. Socially, Gena is not strictly a Christian holiday in that even Ethiopian Muslims visit their Christian friends during the holiday.

Similarly, Ethiopian Christmas ,Gena,used to be much less, if at all, about business transactions, shopping bonanza and gifts, and

Photo credit/

Photo credit/

more about a cultural observance along with friends and families. Main holiday purchase is related to holiday meal to be served for families and neighbours. Before Ethiopia was reduced to economically unliveable for millions due high cost of living related, ironically, to “double digit economic growth,” many families in urban centers used to afford to purchase what they need (depending on their income) to serve holiday meals. Now that is increasingly becoming a thing of the past, for many.

As well, in the old days Gena used to be memorable for a game associated with the holiday. The game is more like field hockey –except that you have to imagine it without an iced ground. The song for the game gives the narrative that even dignitaries and nobilities, in the old days, are pleased with and encourage the game.

Would the Ethiopian Christmas tradition survive the ravage by “modernity” and economic war on the poor, the section of population that seem to preserve identity and culture rather than the increasingly westernizing “middle class” and “elites,” is a question difficult to answer at this point.

Writer can be reached on twitter @dimetros

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