Ethiopia is unlike anywhere else on the planet, a beautiful country blessed with rich and glorious history, delicious cuisine, fabulous wildlife, timeless natural monuments, and soulful people. The country throbs with a certain mystic fervor, coupled with picturesque landscapes, joyful festivals and many more unique attractions that cater to the curious traveler looking for different experiences.
For starters, did you know that Ethiopia has its own alphabet and numerical system and that it is the birthplace of coffee? Or that this East African country has its own calendar system with thirteen months? As such, they have their unique national events. In this quick travel guide to Ethiopia, we look at these events and why you should include them in your travel bucket list for the year.
Ethiopian New Year
Also known as Enkutatash, the Ethiopian new year is celebrated on September 11 every year. It is said that the day commemorates when the famous Queen of Sheba returned from her journey to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem and was welcomed back by her chiefs who replenished her treasury with jewels. Enkutatash thus translates to the “gift of jewels.” That day also coincided with the end of the heavy rainy season and the start of spring, which had always been celebrated in those times with joyful dancing and singing at every village in the countryside. Enkutatash is therefore not just the celebration of the beautiful wildflowers filling the highlands or the religious and massive colorful processions comprising three days of prayers, psalms, hymns; it is also a celebration of renewed life.
Christmas is called “Genna” in Ethiopia. It falls on December 29 of the Ethiopian calendar, which is January 7 everywhere else in the world. Genna is celebrated after a 43-day fast (Tsome Gehad) which is practiced to cleanse the soul and body in preparation for commemorating the day Christ was born. People dress up in all manner of finery and begin the grand festivities as early as 6 AM when they gather in churches for a reflective worship service. Afterward, they then return home to drink and feast on traditional dishes, such as Injera and Doro Wat, coffee, and other delicacies. Families and friends also practice gift-giving during this period. Keep in mind that the joy and celebrations associated with Genna are not restricted to Christians alone as people of other religious beliefs are welcome to celebrate with them as well.
This event marks the baptism of Christ by St. John as was described in the bible and is celebrated a few weeks after the Ethiopian Christmas. Timket is considered the most colorful event of the year with processions and ceremonies lasting for days. Several traditional dishes are prepared while there is no shortage of local beverages, Tella and Tej. This event falls on January 19 every year (January 11 on the Ethiopian calendar).
Traditional Coffee Ceremony
Coffee is a significant part of Ethiopian culture and is so interwoven into their way of life that there is a “Miss Ethiopian Coffee” contest, an “Ethiopian Coffee” football team, and even coffee-flavored condoms. What’s most interesting, however, is the jebena buna, a coffee ceremony that is shared with family and guests, and is also a crucial way to open important events. The ceremony is done by a young female family member or in some cases, the matriarch of the house and is considered a great honor. The elaborate process comprises three main stages — roasting, brewing, and serving. Three rounds are typically served with the first one being the strongest. Since coffee is a sign of respect and friendship to Ethiopians, guests are expected not to turn down the offer and should drink all three rounds.
Omo Valley Tribal Events and Rites of Passage
Visiting the lower Omo Valley in Ethiopia is one of those experiences likely to stick with you for all time. Here you can connect with more than a dozen indigenous peoples who call the region home. The valley is dependent on the Omo River which nourishes the dry savannah and supports the many tribes. Each local community here has its own unique language and customs and has pretty much lived the same lifestyle for centuries. For instance, the Hamar tribe practices a fascinating bull-jumping ceremony, an event that sees a boy become a man after running back and forth across the backs of lined bulls. Others, like the Kara tribe, are more artistic and are famous for their body paints.
In any case, Ethiopia offers a once in a lifetime travel experience and definitely worth considering if African travel is part of your goals for the year.